A week after priest’s ouster, St. Joseph congregation continues to grapple with allegations against him
The Rev. Larry Jensen was removed from his post at Waterville’s St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church last week following sexual abuse accusation
WATERVILLE — A week after the sudden removal of Rev. Larry Jensen, longtime priest at St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church on Appleton Street, parishioners struggle to reconcile the allegations that led to his ouster with the man they came to know over the last decade.
Jensen, 62, was relieved of his duties last week following a “substantiated” allegation of sexual abuse of a minor 15 years ago in Connecticut, according to Michael Thomas, vicar general of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn, New York. On a cold, rainy Sunday, members of the St. Joseph’s congregation expressed shock and sadness over Jensen’s abrupt departure.
“He was not a standoffish priest,” said parishioner Margaret May Lambert, who, along with her mother, has attended St. Joseph’s since 2013. “He was active in our community and our lives, and took part in our activities. He was more like a family member.”
Little is known about the accusations against Jensen except that the alleged male victim was 17 years old at the time of the incident and did not attend the St. Anthony Maronite Catholic Church in Danbury, Connecticut, where Jensen served for eight years before coming to Waterville, according to Thomas. When confronted about the alleged abuse, Jensen neither admitted nor denied it, though he did say this was an isolated incident. As of last week, Thomas said he had received no additional sexual abuse complaints regarding Jensen.
For many of the more than 60 parishioners who attended, Sunday’s mass marked the first time they were meeting their new priest, Rev. James Doran, who in his opening remarks expressed condolences and sympathy for members of the congregation mourning the loss of Jensen and invited them to a meeting of the parish council on May 23, where they might ask questions or voice concerns.
Few parishioners seemed to take solace in the knowledge that Jensen was due to be replaced by Doran within the year after serving more than a decade at St. Joseph. Most priests serve between six and nine years in one place, according to Thomas.
With his removal last week, Jensen may no longer work as a priest though the Eparchy will continue to provide him a stipend until he reaches retirement age, 65 or 70. He will also continue to receive health insurance until he is 65, Thomas said.
Lambert said she was able to say goodbye to Jensen before he left the parish. Following last Sunday’s mass, where Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn, New York, read a letter announcing Jensen’s removal and replacement, Lambert said Jensen stayed behind to answer parishioners’ questions.
“That really got my respect,” Lambert said. “He was not just going to go off. He was like nope, this is what’s going on.”
In that conversation, Lambert said Jensen appeared to be in shock. He said he was not told who the alleged victim was and could only speculate as to incident, Lambert said. Even so, Lambert acknowledges that those who were close to Jensen need to be careful about defending him or other priests, lest it discourage other victims of sexual abuse from coming forward.
“The best we can do is just support the parishioners and pray for Father Larry that the truth will come out one way or another,” Lambert said.
She added, “I hope that he will be vindicated.”
Following Sunday’s service, several parishioners said they were ready to move on from the controversy. One woman, who declined to be named, said she disagreed with parishioners who wished to defend Jensen over the church.
Mark Nale, of Waterville, said he understood the difficulty others were experiencing with Jensen’s departure but also expressed optimism about the resilience of the St. Joseph congregation.
“This is our church,” Nale said. “Our grandparents built it. It has survived through previous priests and it will continue.”
This story has been updated to clarify the comments of parishioner Margaret May Lambert.
Kate McCormick — 861-9218