MORRISTOWN, N.J. - Being a child around the Delbarton School campus in the 1960s and '70s with a father who taught there and later became an assistant headmaster was "total joy," Bill Crane Jr. recalled. That was before he attended the school as a teen and, he says, a priest sexually abused him over a two-year period.
It was years before he came forward, and by that time his twin brother, Thomas, had already told their father that he, too, had been abused. Their allegations are contained in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in state Superior Court in Morristown, about three miles from the school, where current students include Gov. Chris Christie's oldest son.
The suit names Delbarton as well as St. Mary's Abbey, which runs the school. No individuals are named as defendants in the suit, but the complaint identifies Rev. Justin Capato and Rev. Luke Travers as priests responsible for the abuse. In January, Travers was removed from his position as head of an abbey in Richmond, Va., over allegations of sexual misconduct at Delbarton.
A spokesman for St. Mary's said the abbey hadn't seen the lawsuit and wouldn't comment.
"The Abbey does not publicly comment on any pending legal matter," Anthony Cicatiello said. "At a later time, we will determine what comment, if any, is appropriate."
The lawsuit alleges Capato "sexually assaulted, sexually abused and/or had sexual contact" with the brothers numerous times from 1977 to 1979 and that Travers assaulted Thomas Crane in 1980. The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages and alleges negligence, intentional misconduct, concealment, infliction of emotional distress and invasion of privacy on the part of St. Mary's and Delbarton.
"We are contending that these institutions had a responsibility to my clients to properly care for them and certainly not allow their employees to take advantage of their youth and vulnerability," attorney Gregory Gianforcaro said at a news conference. "They knew or reasonably should have known what was occurring and should have taken appropriate measures to prevent it."
The complaint doesn't describe specific acts allegedly committed by the priests, but Gianforcaro said that they were generally similar to those described by other alleged Delbarton victims who said Travers grabbed their crotch or buttocks or tried to kiss them.
On Tuesday Bill Crane, who lives in Sandy, Ore., recalled how he "bled Delbarton green" as a kid following the school's successful athletic teams. His family lived on campus for two years in the late 1970s when his father was assistant headmaster, he said.
Crane expressed disappointment that Christie has not acted on the Delbarton allegations.
"If this was a public school, the administration would have been eradicated," he said. "He's in a compromised situation, and he's sidestepping his moral responsibility as a governor and as a parent. He's almost communicating to Delbarton, `Hey, it's OK, I've got your back.'"
Christie, whose son, Andrew, has attended Delbarton for six years, was asked about the lawsuit during a press conference after visiting a Catholic charter school in Hamilton on Tuesday.
"All I can tell you about Delbarton is that my son has been there for six years, and I've found it to be an outstanding educational institution led by great men and women," Christie said. "He's gotten an outstanding education, and a wonderful personal experience.
"I'm saddened by any of those types of allegations, and if they turn out to be true, they're inexcusable," he added. "But I don't believe it should place a cloud on the entire school and the great work that they are doing."
Associated Press reporter Angela Delli Santi contributed to this report from Hamilton.
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