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December 15, 2019   |   Ithaca, NY

News

College reflects on abuse allegation against campus priest

Rev. Carsten Martensen, Catholic chaplain and director of campus ministry, has stepped down from all current assignments after being accused of sexually abusing a minor in the 1970s.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester informed Ithaca College that an allegation had been made claiming that Martensen had sexually abused a minor in the 1970s, according to an Intercom announcement made March 3 by Hierald Osorto, director of religious and spiritual life. The USA Northeast Province of the Jesuits are conducting an investigation, and Martensen will not be serving in his positions at the college or Cornell University campus ministries, nor any public ministry, while it is being pursued.

Martensen has been working in campus ministries at both the college and Cornell University since 2007. The Diocese of Rochester stated that it has not received an accusation against Martensen during his time serving at the colleges.

In an email obtained by The Ithacan sent Feb. 25 by campus minister John Morton to the Ithaca College Catholic Community, he stated that Martensen was taking time off for personal reasons and to recuperate.

“He has been experiencing fatigue, and this has not been helped by the workload of pastoring two campuses,” the email said. “He is with his Jesuit brothers in Massachusetts.”

John J. Cecero, provincial of the USA Northeast Province of Jesuits, sent a letter to the broader Catholic community Feb. 26 informing them of the allegations.

“Again, these procedures in no way confirm or deny the claim we have received, but as the Jesuits and the Church strive to serve the People of God with greater transparency and accountability, we will always proceed with every precaution to safeguard those who have put their trust in us,” he wrote in the letter.

Michael Gabriele, spokesperson for the USA Northeast Province of the Jesuits, said it is policy to remove a priest from any public ministry until the review board presents its findings. He said the independent review committee consists of mental health, law enforcement and legal professionals. Gabriele said the turnaround for an investigation like this is variable and includes looking into timelines and speaking with the victim and others involved.

The diocese released a list Jan. 15 of 50 USA Northeast Province Jesuits who have had credible allegations leveled against them of sexually abusing a minor. Gabriele said Martensen was not included because the diocese was not informed of the allegation at the time and no previous allegations were made against him.

Gabriele said he did not have information on where the alleged abuse took place. According to Martensen’s biography on the Cornell Catholic Community website, he was ordained as a priest in 1977 and served for two years as a campus minister at Northern Illinois University, followed by 11 years as chaplain at Fordham Prep, eight years as director of campus ministry at Saint Peter’s College and seven years as pastor of Saint Anthony Church.

Eileen Heptig, associate director of the Cornell Catholic Community, will take over administrative responsibilities at Ithaca College in Martensen’s absence. Junior Rachel Turberg, president of the Catholic Community, said Daniel McMullin, associate dean of students for the Office of Spirituality and Meaning Making and director of Cornell United Religious Work, and Joe Marcoux, pastor at St. Catherine of Siena Church, will lead the 8 p.m. mass on alternating Sundays. The 6 p.m. mass on Thursdays will be led by Augustine Chumo, pastor at Immaculate Conception Church. She also said the Ithaca College Catholic Community Student-Led Leadership Team has eliminated the 1 p.m. mass on Sundays.

The mass held March 3 in Muller Chapel was led by McMullin. During the mass, McMullin read the letter from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester and acknowledged that the allegation is painful and disappointing for the community to hear.

“I had hoped to live my entire priesthood without ever having to deliver a message like this one,” he said.

The allegation against Carsten follows thousands that have been made around the world concerning sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. In 2004, the Catholic Church commissioned a report that found that more than 4,000 US Roman Catholic priests had been accused of sexual abuse in the last 50 years. The cases have involved more than 10,000 children, most of whom are boys.

Following the mass, Osorto, Morton and Marcoux were available for those from the campus community who wished to talk.

Turberg said that though the news came as a shock to her, the college has provided a support system for the Catholic Community.

“Many students still attended mass Sunday night, and I think that it showed the strength of the students of not only our community, but of the college as well,” she said via email. “I have had many people reach out to me who know of my involvement on the Leadership Team to check in and see how I am doing or just to talk about what we will be doing going forward, so I know that others are receiving the same type of support, which is truly appreciated.”

A gathering was held at noon in the Muller Chapel on March 5 to reflect on the news. Approximately 35 people, primarily faculty and staff, attended the event. Several key figures in the college leadership, including President Shirley M. Collado; La Jerne Cornish, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs; Rosanna Ferro, vice president for student affairs and campus life; and William Guerrero, vice president of the Division of Finance and Administration, attended.

Osorto gave an opening speech talking about the difficulty of the situation.

“This is hard — I don’t know how else to say it,” Osorto said. “At some point, the emotions do come out and there is nothing we can do to hold the rawness of the pain and the questions and uncertainty that occurs when our community suffers.”

Lauren Goldberg, executive director of Hillel at Ithaca College, then had audience members break off into groups and discuss the issue. They talked to one another about where they were when they found out about the allegation, how they were coping with the situation, and any other thoughts they wanted to express.

Osorto said in the statement that the college will be offering support to the campus community through Counseling and Psychological Services.

The Catholic Community will gather by the fireplace at 6 p.m. in the Muller Chapel on March 7 to share, listen and pray about the news.

Assistant News Editor Ryan King and Staff Writer Mary Rand contributed reporting.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Michael Gabriele is the director of communications of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester. It has been corrected to say that he is the spokesperson for the USA Northeast Province of the Jesuits.

Madison Fernandez can be reached at mfernandez1@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @madfernandez616