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Ex-Delbarton Monk Accused Of Sex Abuse

Oct 6, 2002 | Parsippany Daily Record By all appearances, Bob Sheridan had everything going for him. He was a former lacrosse and soccer star at the Delbarton School and worked part time as coach of the varsity indoor lacrosse team. He had a good job as a salesman for a large insurance company. He was active raising money for his alma mater. His résumé includes an induction into the prestigious Delbarton Hall of Honor.

He also had a secret.

In 1992, at a Delbarton football game, he decided that it was time to tell his story to the monks of St. Mary's Abbey, who run the school. At the game, Sheridan said he saw a former Delbarton teacher, who had been a monk and was still a deacon, hanging out with alumni during tailgate parties.

He now says the deacon sexually assaulted him in 1981, when he was 18 years old and home from college.

Ten years ago, after the football game, Sheridan says that he told Abbot Brian Clarke, head of the abbey at the time, that the deacon had exposed himself in 1981. There was more to the story, Sheridan said, but he figured that would be enough to accomplish his goals. He said that he made two requests.

"I told the abbot that I don't want to see this guy back on campus," Sheridan said. "I told him that I wanted to make sure he wasn't working as a deacon in a church."

Delbarton officials said this past week that the deacon never was allowed back on campus, and that he now lives in Pennsylvania. But they also said that Clarke, who is recovering from hip surgery and was not available to be interviewed, does not remember Sheridan making the second request. The monks say that Sheridan requested anonymity - so Clarke kept his secret and never told anyone about the meeting.

Meanwhile, the deacon worked as an unpaid volunteer for 10 years at Resurrection parish in Randolph, part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson.

Diocese officials said they didn't know anything about allegations against the deacon until recently, long after he moved out of state early last year. They said the deacon no longer is allowed to work in a church.

Sheridan, 39, who now lives in Morristown, said he recently decided to go public with his story because he wasn't satisfied with the way his case was handled by church officials, especially the monks of St. Mary's.

He said he found out only last year that the deacon had been working in Randolph - a discovery that he said made him feel betrayed by the monks who run Delbarton. He also said that he told at least one diocese official about the deacon last year, but that the official later told him that he didn't tell anyone else in the diocese about it until this year.

The Rev. Elias Lorenzo, a monk and spokesman for the abbey, said last week that the deacon had been caught drinking with students at the monastery in 1987, several months before he asked to leave the monastery and five years before Sheridan went to the abbot with his allegations. The deacon continued to teach at Delbarton after that incident, abbey officials said, but was told that he would not have a teaching position the following year.

Abbey officials said their policy requires teachers caught drinking with underage students to be fired. Anthony Cicatiello, a spokesman for the abbey, said it was not clear if the deacon was caught with students or alumni, or if the deacon's drinking partners were underage, which he said might explain why police were not called after that incident.

If some facts remain unclear, there are some similarities to the way St. Mary's, part of the Benedictine order, which is independent of diocesan control, handled at least one other case of child abuse.

Abbey officials admitted this past summer that they allowed Timothy Brennan, a priest and former Delbarton teacher, to continue working at churches in New York state for more than a decade after he pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a student in 1986. Abbey officials said Brennan wasn't allowed to work with children, and they removed him from his position in March in the wake of a national scandal involving priests abusing children. Officials with the Rochester Diocese, where Brennan worked, said they had not been notified that the priest was working in their jurisdiction.

St. Mary's officials now say they should have done things differently in both cases. They said this past week that they should have told officials with the Paterson Roman Catholic Diocese about allegations against the deacon although they stressed that, unlike Brennan, the deacon no longer was under their control once he left the monastery in 1987.

They said that under their current guidelines, they would have called the police. They also said that other than Clarke, no one else at the abbey knew about the allegations against the deacon until earlier this year, when Sheridan contacted other abbey officials.

That's when police were notified of the allegations, abbey officials said, long after the criminal statute of limitations had expired. The Daily Record is not identifying the deacon because he hasn't been charged with a crime and has not been punished by church officials.

Abbey officials said last week that Clarke may not have been aware that the deacon continued to work in a diocesan parish long after the allegations were made. However, they said Clarke and other abbey officials knew the deacon intended to work in the Paterson Diocese after he left the monastery. Paterson Diocese officials said they should have been told about the deacon's history.

"If they had told us of the circumstances, we most certainly wouldn't have employed this man on a part-time basis," said Marianna Thompson, spokeswoman for Paterson Diocese Bishop Frank Rodimer. Delbarton officials knew that the man had been formally received as a deacon in the diocese, she said.

Sheridan said he sent a letter to the deacon last year as part of his therapy. He said it's only been in the past couple of years that he has begun to think about the details of the alleged assault and realized how much it affected his life. He said keeping the secret has affected his relationships with women. He said it's affected his work. He is not married, and has been looking for a job. He said some friends noticed that he seemed depressed and suggested that he seek counseling. He said they thought his depression was caused by unresolved issues over the death of his brother, Michael, in 1982.

Until he went to a therapist, he said, he agreed with them.

The Sheridan family, of Chatham, has been something of a legacy at Delbarton. Four brothers attended the school, all active in sports. Michael Sheridan was killed in 1982 when he hit his head on furniture after he and his brother, Bob, got into a fight at their home. A Morris County grand jury determined that it was an accident.

Bob Sheridan said he always kept busy so he wouldn't have time to think. He became a lacrosse referee and volunteered as a coach. He never took a vacation. He went to therapy to talk about his brother, he said, and ended up focusing on the deacon, who he said had been a close friend of his family.

He said that when he was 16 years old, the deacon came to him at Delbarton and asked for help in counseling another young man about sex. The deacon gave him a questionnaire to fill out. The first questions were about dating. Where do you go on a first date? When do you expect your first kiss? The questions progressed to masturbation and oral sex, Sheridan said, adding that he left most of them blank.

"You'd surely be doing the work of Christ by helping another boy your age," the deacon said, according to Sheridan.

Two years later, Sheridan was home from college, on Christmas break, when the deacon asked him to go out to dinner. They went back to St. Mary's Abbey, Sheridan said, because the deacon wanted to give him a history book. Sheridan said that he waited in the monk's cafeteria while the deacon went to his room.

"When he came back, his pants were down around his ankles," Sheridan said.

Sheridan said that he ran and the deacon caught up to him, putting his hands down his pants and groping him. He got away and remembers the deacon calling to him, telling him that he loved him. Sheridan said he didn't tell anyone because he was embarrassed, and figured he wouldn't be believed.

Eight months later, after his brother died, Sheridan said the deacon showed up at his house and was comforting one of his brothers.

"He saw me, and got up and left," Sheridan said.

Abbey officials said they hadn't heard the entire story until recently. During an interview in June, they mentioned an allegation against a deacon, saying they first heard about it within the past couple of months. They now say that only Clarke knew about the allegation before then.

Sheridan said he asked abbey officials for a monetary settlement of $600,000, on the advice of an attorney, earlier this year because he felt that they had let him down by failing to stop the deacon from working in a church. Abbot Thomas Comfroy, now head of the abbey, gave him a personal check for more than $2,000 to help cover some of his expenses, he said, but he has since returned the money.

He said he's not simply upset about the past, but also about the fact that church officials have not responded to his request to reach out to Resurrection Parish, to find out whether the deacon had any other victims during the decade he served there.

Lorenzo said he's waiting for the Paterson Diocese to decide what to do about Resurrection Parish. He said the abbey is ready to assist the diocese in making an outreach to the church. Thompson said the diocese is waiting for St. Mary's to take the initiative. She said the diocese is ready to assist the abbey.

"It's their parish," Lorenzo said of the diocese. "Their pastor has to be consulted."

"This outreach is for them to initiate," Thompson said. "We have no allegations made to us. This is their revelation to make."

Mark Serrano, a former Mendham resident and a trustee of a national group called Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said this past week that Rodimer should make the first move, adding that the diocese has a responsibility to Resurrection Parish, regardless of what St. Mary's does. For now, however, the abbey and the diocese appear to be at an impasse over how to proceed.

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