Waterville priest removed from duties over allegations of sexual abuse 15 years ago in Connecticut
Rev. Larry Jensen of St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church ‘can not present himself as a priest anymore’ after church officials
WATERVILLE — The Rev. Larry Jensen of St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church on Appleton Street has been removed from the church amid a “substantiated” allegation of sexual abuse of a minor 15 years ago in Connecticut.
“He has been permanently relieved of priestly ministry and he can not present himself as a priest anymore,” Michael Thomas, vicar general of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn, New York, said of Jensen Monday morning in a telephone interview.
Thomas said the alleged abuse victim, a male, “was close to 18 but not 18” when the alleged abuse occurred at the time Jensen was a priest at St. Anthony Maronite Catholic Church in Danbury, Connecticut.
“Father had some sexual contact with this minor, and we were kind of shocked when we got the call last week,” Thomas said. “I confronted Father with it and he didn’t admit it, but he didn’t deny it.”
Jensen, 62, was born in Muskegon, Michigan, and he served 8 years at St. Anthony Maronite Catholic Church in Danbury, Connecticut, before coming to the Waterville church. Before those assignments, he served 10 years at St. Michael The Archangel Maronite Catholic Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina, according to Thomas.
Attempts to reach Jensen for comment on Monday were not unsuccessful.
Thomas said he does not know who the accuser is and he does not think any legal action has been taken so far on the accuser’s behalf.
“It’s been shocking for all of us. We feel very bad for the victim and we feel very bad for (Jensen), so we’re torn,” he said. “He’s had consistent assignments; we’ve never had any complaints.”
There are about 50 priests in the Brooklyn Eparchy, which covers Maronite churches along the East Coast from Maine to Florida, and they all know each other. Within the Catholic Church there are individual churches, or rites, that may have differing local customs but all pledge to be in communion with the pope in Rome. The Maronite church is one such rite, with a history in the eastern regions of the world, while the Roman Catholic rite includes most in the western world.
Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney who is not involved in the Jensen case but has prosecuted more than 2,000 cases involving sexual abuse in the Catholic church, said a person in the state of Connecticut has until the age of 48 to file a lawsuit in court.
Garabedian — whose character was featured in the Academy Award-winning film “Spotlight,” based on the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church — said Monday that an investigation must have been done in the Jensen case in which the victim was found to be credible. Otherwise, Jensen would have been placed on leave and not permanently relieved from priestly duties.
“It’s kind of like being suspended without pay pending an investigation,” Garabedian said in a phone interview Monday. “Obviously, they’ve gone beyond that point.”
Until Sunday, Jensen had been the priest at St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church, at 3 Appleton St., for about 10 years. On Sunday, Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Brooklyn Eparchy read aloud a letter to parishioners at the Waterville church, explaining that the Rev. James Doran was replacing Jensen, who likely would have been transferred to another parish in the next year anyway because most priests serve only six to 9 years in one place, according to Thomas.
Mansour also told parishioners the Eparchy takes allegations of abuse seriously, and if anyone else had complaints about Jensen to contact officials, Thomas said. “We just want to make sure no one else is affected,” he said.
The same kind of letter was read in the parishes of Danbury, Connecticut, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, Thomas said.
Parishioners of St. Joseph in Waterville on Monday reported being saddened and heartbroken Jensen was removed from the church but said they understand the rules that require it when someone reports sexual abuse.
“I feel very, very bad for Father,” said Martha Coury Patterson, a St. Joseph parishioner. “I can’t even express how badly I feel for him because it is a thing of the past and forgotten and he’s been so wonderful to so many people and so hopeful and he brought so much love.”
Patterson said Jensen is in Massachusetts now and has a large, supportive family in Michigan, where she believes he will go next. “We’re just praying for peace for him,” she said.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, notified the Brooklyn Eparchy on May 1 of the allegation of abuse by Jensen, Thomas said.
Brian Wallace, communications director for the Bridgeport Diocese, clarified on Monday that St. Anthony’s Maronite Catholic Church is not a part of the Bridgeport Diocese. Jensen is not, nor has he ever been, part of the Roman Catholic diocese or had an assignment there.
The reason Bridgeport Diocese reported the allegation of sexual abuse is that Bridgeport officials got a call last week from an attorney who indicated there had been an allegation of sexual abuse, according to Wallace. He said that the Bridgeport Diocese takes such reports very seriously and, as part of protocol, called the Eparchy and other entities to relay the report they had received from the attorney.
“As soon as we received that call, we immediately notified (Connecticut) Department of Children and Families,” Wallace said. “We immediately notified police. We’re mandatory reporters.”
He said the attorney called Bridgeport because the alleged abuse took place in Danbury and it would be logical for the attorney to call the Roman Catholic Diocese because it encompasses all of Fairfield County in that state.
A message left Monday afternoon for a police detective-lieutenant at Danbury Police Headquarters was not immediately returned.
Thomas said the Eparchy has been trying to be transparent about the matter involving 62-year-old Jensen, who is close to retirement age. He will be provided a pro-rated retirement stipend until full retirement age, which could be 65 or 70, and he will be kept on health insurance until he is 65, according to Thomas.
Thomas said that when he confronted Jensen with the report, he told him he had no choice but to remove him from priestly ministry.
“We have a review board that looks at these cases,” Thomas said. “Because Father wasn’t denying, there was no need to convene the review board. But we had a conference call with the review board, and he was removed from the ministry permanently. Father said that this was the only time that this ever happened, and I have no need to doubt it.”
But Garabedian, the Boston lawyer who handles church sex abuse cases, said his experience tells him there could be “dozens and dozens of victims” and he’s seen firsthand “endless the amount of abuse.”
“It’s incumbent upon the leaders of the Catholic Church … to determine if there any other victims of Father Jensen out there,” Garabedian said. “It wouldn’t be inappropriate to rely on only Father Jensen’s word as to how many children he sexually abused.”
Garabedian said transparency is important in the case “so the truth is revealed, so victims can try to heal.”
“There needs to be a complete investigation of this matter because it’s very important to determine who knew about this sexual abuse of Father Jensen,” he said.
Garabedian’s 2,000-plus cases worldwide span a period of more than 70 years, he said. One victim, he said, was abused in 1938. He said he now has 150 clients, 80 of whom were abused by teachers in Jesuit schools.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland issued a statement Monday afternoon saying it had been notified by Mansour, the Maronite bishop, that a “substantiated claim of sexual abuse of a minor” had been made against Jensen.
The Roman Catholic Diocese statement points out that Jensen was not a priest of the Portland Diocese.
“Bishop Mansour has assured the diocese that Fr. Jensen has been removed from the ministry after the claim was found to be substantiated,” the statement says. “The incident took place a number of years ago and did not occur in Maine. Bishop (Robert) Deeley asks all to join him in praying for the St. Joseph Maronite Church community, those impacted in this matter and the victims of clergy sexual abuse and their families.”
The statement says Deeley encourages anyone who may have information about any case involving sexual abuse of a minor by a church representative to contact civil authorities.
Amy Calder — 861-9247