Delbarton Hit By Charge Of Sex Abuse By MonkOct 10, 2002
At 6-feet-tall, the boyish-looking, strapping 39-year-old Sheridan was a star lacrosse player, named one of only 46 members of Delbarton's Hall of Honor and was its outstanding alumnus for 2001.
Various awards paper the walls of his Morristown apartment. But through the past 20 years, a pall has remained over the awards and citations and indeed much of Sheridan's life.
Only recently, after years of therapy, has Sheridan been able to overcome the guilt, shame and fear that resulted after he said he was sexually assaulted by a former Delbarton monk two decades ago.
Sheridan said he chose to make his story public after he was empowered by his therapy and the support of a national network of survivors of sexual assaults by priests, known as Survivors Network of those Abuse by Priests (SNAP). The organization is based in Mendham.
But Sheridan remains angry with his alma mater for not having taken faster action to locate his alleged molester and for not having supported him in his emotional troubles resulting from the alleged assault.
The monk who allegedly assaulted Sheridan in 1978 was known as Brother Malachy Flavin. Nine years later, in 1987, Flavin quit the Benedictine order at St. Mary's Abbey which runs Delbarton. He subsequently worked for 10 years as a volunteer, part-time deacon at Resurrection Parish in Randolph Township.
The former monk went back to given name of Robert Flavin.
Sheridan went to the abbey in 1992 with the allegations about Flavin's assault against him in 1978.
But Sheridan said the abbey already knew of an alleged 1987 assault against another youth. That assault, said Sheridan, resulted in Flavin's resignation from the order.
According to Sheridan, he was told by the former abbot that Flavin left in 1987 after the monk was confronted by the abbot with a report of another assault against another student.
The abbey, now, however, claims they had no information about a 1987 allegation but that Flavin left after he was found drinking alcoholic beverages with a student.
Delbarton quietly accepted Flavin's resignation in 1987, but did not report the incident either to the Paterson diocese, the Morris County Prosecutor or Flavin's next part-time employer, Resurrection Parish of Randolph Township.
Anthony Cicatiello, a spokesman for the abbey, said the abbey knew nothing of the 1987 sexual allegations nor they did know of Sheridan's allegations at the time of Flavin's resignation
"Never, ever did he (Flavin) say anything about any of this (sexual allegations)," Cicatiello said.
Father Elias R. Lorenzo, a spokesman for St. Mary's Abbey, said Flavin requested and was granted a final dispensation of vows in 1990, before any knowledge of his wrongdoing became known to the abbey.
"Brother Malachy withdrew from St. Mary's Abbey in 1987, independent of this (Sheridan's) allegation or any allegation of sexual misconduct. We learned of the first allegation of wrongdoing in 1992, at which point we directed Mr. Flavin not to return to campus," Father Lorenzo said in a statement.
After he left the abbey in 1987, Flavin remained with Resurrection Parish for about 10 years.
The school and the diocese now say they will notify parishioners at Ressurection Parish of Sheridan's allegations against Flavin and that they will try to find if there were other victims.
But Sheridan and others said the response by Delbarton and the diocese is too little and too late. Sheridan also said the school and the abbey have not given the emotional support he would expect as a sexual abuse survivor.
Delbarton has 500 students in grades 7 through 12. Tuition is in excess of $12,000 a year.
"I loved this school," said Sheridan, a native of Chatham and a resident of Morristown for the past 12 years. "I was one of their (Delbarton's) best and finest. If I'm getting treated this way, I don't know where is the respect for myself and other victims."
He said he attended a ceremony in Philadelphia in December 2001 when he was named the U.S. Lacrosse Man of the Year. It should have been a joyous day, he said.
"Instead, I was a boiling cauldron," Sheridan said in an interview last Thursday.
Sheridan said he believes there are other victims at Delbarton and elsewhere and that Flavin was not just "going through a phase" in the early 1980s.
"I am convinced that I was not his first victim, nor was I his last," Sheridan said. "I believe this man (Flavin) is still dangerous to children."
Flavin has moved from his most recent residence in East Stroudsburg, Pa., and could not be located. A spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Scranton, Pa., said they had no records of Flavin serving as a deacon anywhere in the state.
A search by the Paterson Diocese also was unable to locate Flavin.
Sheridan, his three brothers and one sister were raised in Chatham by their parents, Robert and Millie.
Mr. and Mrs. Sheridan were from Newark, the home of the Benedictine order. Mrs. Sheridan, a highly religious woman, had always had the dream that her children would one day attend a school taught by the Benedictines.
The family moved to Chatham in 1971 and by 1977, Mrs. Sheridan's dream had come true. Robert Sheridan was a freshman at the Delbarton School. His two younger brothers, Brian, 38, and Kevin, 35, also later graduated from Delbarton.
Another brother, Michael, attended but died in an accident before graduation.
Sheridan claims he was sexually assaulted by Flavin twice.
The first incident was in September 1978 when Sheridan was 15 and Flavin had been a teacher for only three years.
A second alleged incident occurred when Sheridan was 18 and a college freshman.
In the time leading up to the alleged assaults, Sheridan said he considered Flavin a close friend as did his brothers and parents.
Flavin, a Connecticut native, was a freshman history teacher and spiritual guidance counselor. Indicative of his relationship to the family, Flavin invited Sheridan and his parents and brothers to his ordination as a deacon on the road to one day becoming a priest.
The first allegation involves an incident when Sheridan was a 15-year-old sophomore in the fall of 1978. He said Flavin approached him in the library.
The monk said he wanted Sheridan's advice about another student who Flavin said he was counseling who was having personal problems involving dating and sex.
Flavin told Sheridan that he couldn't answer most of the questions about dating and sex because he had taken vows of celibacy. He then asked Sheridan if he would help by answering a dozen written questions.
The questions began innocently about dating and soon progressed to explicit sexual questions ranging from "Do you masturbate?" to "Have you ever been with another guy?" and more.
Sheridan said he felt uneasy about the questions and didn't complete the answers. He left the library and the next day, Flavin apologized for having made Sheridan feel uneasy.
Sheridan finished his high school career with no further incidents involving the monk. He graduated from Delbarton and enrolled in Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pa., and didn't see again Sheridan until Thanksgiving 1981.
Sheridan arrived home and went to Delbarton to pick up his brothers. He met Flavin in the parking lot and the brother said he would like to get together during the Christmas vacation.
Eventually, they arranged to meet at the Dublin Pub in Morristown on Monday night, Dec. 28.
After dinner, Flavin persuaded Sheridan to go with him to Delbarton to pick up some interesting history books. They arrived in the monks' cafeteria where Flavin asked Sheridan to wait while he got the books.
The monk returned about 15 minutes later, yelling out, "Well, here it is. Do something for me Bobby," according to Sheridan.
Flavin's pants were pulled down and he was vigorously masturbating.
Sheridan said he tried to get away and fell to the floor. He fumbled to put on his sweat jacket, when Flavin put his hand down the back of Sheridan's pants and fondled the young man.
"I ran out the door with him following closely behind me and yelling, "Come back here, you don't understand. I'm in love with you. I love you," " Sheridan said.
Sheridan said he told no one of the incident.
"This was something so bizarre that I couldn't talk to anyone about it," he said.
Eight months later, in August 1982, Sheridan's younger brother, Michael, died. Among the many guests visiting the home to offer condolences was Flavin.
Sheridan came downstairs to see Flavin trying to comfort his brother, Brian.
"I stared at him from the far side of the room and once he caught my angry gaze, he left very quickly," Sheridan said.
Sheridan soon transferred to Seton Hall University where he later graduated.
He said he next saw Flavin at the October 1992 Delbarton homecoming. Flavin was making the rounds of students tailgating in the parking lot.
"I was horrified to see him hugging guys from past graduating classes and that he was smiling away just enjoying himself in the presence of other young men," Sheridan said.
A short time later, for the first time since the assault 11 years earlier, Sheridan decided to speak with Delbarton authorities.
Accompanied by two friends, Sheridan said he met with Abbot Brian Clarke. He explained the past incidents and demanded that Flavin never again be permitted to visit at Delbarton and that Flavin not be allowed to be a deacon or serve in any other position working with young people.
Abbot Brian agreed to Sheridan's requests and said he would seek out Flavin.
Cicatiello said in an interview that one reason the abbey did not notify authorities was that Sheridan had insisted that all he wanted was to keep Flavin away from Delbarton.
"He (Sheridan) begged for anonymity," said Cicatiello. "He just didn't want Flavin on campus."
Three months later, in December 1992, Sheridan attended a Delbarton varsity basketball game and met up with Abbot Brian.
The abbot said he had spoken with Flavin and told him to stay away from Delbarton because of Sheridan's allegations.
At this time, Sheridan said he also asked the abbot why Flavin had left the monastery in 1987, five years before Sheridan had divulged the incident against him.
"(Abbot Brian) told me that it was late one evening in 1987 at the monastery and that he heard voices and laughter coming out of the monk's cafeteria," Sheridan said. "He said that he caught Brother Malachy with a student in a compromising position."
The abbot told the monk to go to his room and that they would discuss the incident in the morning. The next morning Flavin told the abbot that he would be leaving the monastery because of what the abbot had seen, according to Sheridan.
Cicatiello, however, said the incident did not involve sex but that Flavin was found drinking alcoholic beverages with a student.
Cicatiello said that when abbey authorities learned of Sheridan's allegations in 1992, they should have alerted the diocese.
However, Cicatiello said no one was alerted because Flavin had already left the Benedictine order and because Sheridan had been "vehement" that he did not want the issue to be made public.
Cicatiello said a third factor was that Sheridan was an adult at the time of the alleged assault and that "he had a responsibility to go to the prosecutor."
Sheridan said he believed he could now put the incident behind him. But in February 2001 he met with a friend who had lived in Randolph Township and who attended Resurrection Parish.
The friend had heard that the deacon had been a monk at Delbarton and she asked if Sheridan knew him. Sheridan said he was outraged to learn that Flavin had been a deacon at the church for the past decade.
That month, Sheridan said a close friend and fellow Delbarton alumnus revealed that he too had been molested by Flavin during the same 1981 Christmas recess when Sheridan was allegedly accosted.
The alumnus has declined to be interviewed about the alleged incident.
At the time, Sheridan said he was feeling increasingly depressed, was having trouble concentrating and found his temper to be getting shorter and shorter.
In April 2001, at the suggestion of friends, he began receiving professional counseling.
A short time later, at his therapist's suggestion, he tried to track down Flavin.
He said he spoke with officials at Resurrection Parish but that he learned Flavin had left the church about a year earlier. He also said he went to the Diocese of Paterson to help locate Flavin.
Sheridan said a diocesan lawyer said there was no legal grounds to approach Flavin because Sheridan was an adult at the time of the sexual assault and because the statute of limitations had passed.
Sheridan was able to find that Flavin had moved to Tobyhanna, Pa. Further along in his therapy, Sheridan decided to communicate his feelings to Flavin in a certified letter.
"I have had horrible memories of that evening when you deliberately betrayed our friendship and took advantage of my youthfulness and innocence by sexually molesting me later in the evening while we were at Saint Mary's Abbey, Delbarton School," Sheridan wrote.
"In that one night of your fulfilling your corrupt desires, you took away my respect for all that I considered holy, my faith in God and Jesus Christ and my trust in all authority figures."
The certified receipt was returned but Flavin never responded to the letter.
Sheridan sent copies of the letter to the diocese and had several conversations with Monsignor Robert Diachek, vicar of Deacons for the Diocese. Diachek said he would place the letter in Flavin's file in event he ever asked for a recommendation for a future job as deacon in another parish.
"I reached out to the Paterson Diocese seven months before this became a national and international concern," Sheridan said. "They did nothing."
This past April, Sheridan met with the current abbot, Thomas Confroy, to explain the incidents involving Flavin. At the time, Sheridan also asked the abbot if there might be any teaching or coaching positions open at Delbarton.
Sheridan didn't hear back from Confroy and, in June, a story was reported in the media about another Delbarton priest, Father Timothy Brennan, who had pleaded guilty in 1986 to previous sexual abuse of a student.
Though Brennan and Flavin taught at the same time, Cicatiello said there was no indication of any connections between the two monks.
Continuing with his therapy, Sheridan decided in July to reveal his long kept secrets to his parents.
At about the same time, Sheridan notified Delbarton that he wanted the abbey to pay for his weekly therapy visits, that he wanted a financial settlement from the abbey and lastly, he wanted the abbey to help find Flavin and ensure he was not an active deacon anywhere.
Sheridan met with representatives of the abbey in July and was told he should hire a lawyer to help determine a settlement.
At a subsequent meeting, Sheridan said he had hired a lawyer and determined a settlement of $600,000 would pay for pain, suffering, loss of work and diminished earnings because of the alleged abuse.
A representative of the abbey refused the amount and the next day Abbot Confroy called Sheridan to offer to pay him $2,370 toward therapy.
Both sides remain in negotiations.
In August, Sheridan reached out for support to the Rev. Kenneth Lasch, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Mendham, and an outspoken supporter of survivors of sexual abuse by priests.
Sheridan also has since become involved with Survivors Network of those Abuse by Priests (SNAP), a national support group that was started in Mendham.
Sheridan said he no longer sees a therapist.
Flavin was hired at Resurrection Parish by the former pastor, the Rev. Martin Rauscher.
Rauscher was not available for comment and the current pastor, the Rev. John Andrew Connell, said he never met Flavin, although he had heard Flavin was "a very good preacher."
Connell said last Thursday that he learned of the allegations from Sheridan. But the priest said he would make no statements about the allegations to the congregation because he had checked Flavin's history and found he was not active with youth groups at the church.
Connell said that from 1988 to 2001, Flavin preached one Sunday a month and taught class on church history.
Connell said the diocese completed a check on Flavin's background before he was assigned as a deacon to Resurrection Parish in 1988. The check evidently did not raise any questions about Flavin, Connell said.
Mark Serrano formerly of Mendham and a spokesman for SNAP, said Connell is not qualified to determine if there were other victims.
"The only way to determine if anyone was abused is to make the allegations public," said Serrano.
Diocesan spokeswoman Marianna Thompson said the abbey is an independent order that cannot be controlled by the diocese.
However, the diocese will work with the abbey to inform members of Resurrection Parish of the allegations. Thompson said there would be either a notice in the parish bulletin, a meeting at the church or perhaps both.
"It's for them to initiate and us to facilitate," Thompson said. "We will cooperate in every way."
Serrano said the diocese is wrong to wait for the abbey to begin to alert people to the allegations.
"They're lacking a sense of moral leadership to wait for the Benedictines," Serrano said. "We have a new case of sexual abuse uncovered and they (diocese) are still not searching for other survivors."
Thompson said that after Sheridan told of the allegations in 1992, the abbey should have immediately notified the state Division of Youth and Family Services, the Morris County Prosecutor and the diocese.
She said Sheridan did not notify the diocese of the allegations until this past spring.
Lorenzo said allegations such as the one made initially against Flavin would be handled differently today. He said information regarding such abuse would be forwarded immediately to legal and ecclesiastic authorities.
"In addition, any monks today would be removed from pastoral duties immediately and an internal investigation would be undertaken by outside lay people to advise the abbot," Lorenzo said.
At the last meeting of the senior council of the abbey in August, a full draft of the by-laws and policies of the Abbey Review Board was adopted, establishing a new advisory and review body to deal with allegations of morally inappropriate conduct by members of the monastic community.
Lorenzo said the policies were drawn after review of both the new charter created by the Bishops Conference in Dallas and the reflections of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men in Philadelphia.
The policy is being implemented under the direction of former state Supreme Court Justice Marie L. Garibaldi, who has agreed to chair the Review Board.
The board first met Friday, Sept. 13, and has begun an investigation of Sheridan's allegations.
According to an abbey statement, the Abbey Review Board is a separate, primarily lay group not in the employ of the abbey, including a jurist, an attorney, a clinical social worker, a psychologist, and others.
Its charge is to provide communication of all available information with applicable authorities, including prosecutors and the state Division of Youth and Family Services; establishing and assessing claims; removing the accused from ministerial duties and, where applicable, the care of children; providing psychological evaluation of the accused; providing for pastoral care for victims as well as the accused; and supplying the media with information that respects the abbey's obligations to both victims and the larger community.