Former Danbury priest defrocked after sex abuse allegations
DANBURY – Parishioners of a Catholic church where a former pastor was accused of sexually abusing a minor a decade ago stressed their commitment on Tuesday to supporting the victim.
“Faith communities have been through this before, and the way forward is with as much transparency as possible, and to offer support services to any victims who come forward,” said Thomas Saadi, a parishioner at St. Anthony Maronite Catholic Church.
The Rev. Larry Jensen, who was pastor of the church from 1998 to 2006, has been accused of sexual abuse of a minor during that period.
Later pastor of St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church in Waterville, Maine, Jensen has been “permanently relieved of priestly ministry,” Michael Thomas, the vicar general of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn, told the Associated Press.
Details about the sexual abuse accusation were not available. Thomas could not be reached for further comment Tuesday.
“The only information is what I have read online,” said Saadi, Democratic minority leader on the City Council. “But any allegation like this must be taken seriously.”
In Danbury, the parish’s current pastor said a letter from the Brooklyn chancery was read during weekend Masses.
“I am not authorized to say anything, so I don’t feel comfortable talking about it,” said the Rev. Kiwan Naji Jalil, the pastor of St. Anthony’s. “We read the letter from the chancery office in Brooklyn, and that is all we can say.”
The letter was read to the three parishes where Jensen has served – in Danbury, in Maine and in North Carolina – assuring parishioners that all abuse complaints would be taken seriously, the AP reported.
Saadi said the church would conduct a transparent investigation.
“I have been in touch with the chancery to find out who to contact in case someone comes to me with a question,” Saadi said. “I expect the Eparchy will investigate this both internally and will cooperate with all civil authorities, including law enforcement.”
Although St. Anthony’s is a Catholic church in full communion with Rome, it has independent traditions in keeping with its Lebanese heritage. As such it is not under the authority of the Diocese of Bridgeport.
“It is part of the eastern tradition of the church,” said Brian Wallace, a diocesan spokesman. “The parish in Danbury is sponsored and supervised by the Maronite chancery in Brooklyn.”
Like all Catholic churches, St. Anthony’s has a protocol for reporting allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, Wallace said.
“The fact is sexual abuse is a terrible thing,” Wallace said.
A longtime parishioner of St. Anthony’s said it is important to support victims of sexual abuse, but it is also important to support good priests.
“It’s a blemish on the reputation of the priests that are trying to repair the reputation of priests,” said Dolores Haddad, former religious education teacher in the parish who raised her family at St. Anthony’s. “There are a lot of great priests out there who are doing a great job.”
His time in Danbury
Jensen, a Michigan native, was an accountant before he decided to join the priesthood.
Jensen came to St. Anthony from Fayetteville, N.C., in 1998. He left in July 2006 to serve at St. Joseph in Waterville.
“I will miss the people very, very much,” Jensen said in a 2006 interview with the News-Times. “They have been very loving, very supportive and very affirming. It is like a family feeling, like I belong with them.”
During his time at the Danbury church, the number of parishioners tripled, to about 300. Asked how he did it, he said, “I did it by being friendly.”
Jensen said in the 2006 interview that he tried to get youth more involved in church, starting a youth play for Christmas and a Passion play for teenagers and young adults.
On Sundays, the youth group, which had about 20 members, made breakfast for the parish after the liturgy. The group also worked with organizations that help HIV/AIDS patients and with school peer leadership groups.
“Children need to feel at home at their church,” Jensen said at the time. “It is supposed to be a family feeling when they are here.”