Cornell University temporarily revoked all chaplain privileges for Reverend Carsten Martensen following an allegation against him of sexual abuse of a minor in the 1970s. Martensen has worked in campus ministries for Cornell University and Ithaca College since 2007, and served as chaplain at both institutions.
Before noon on Sunday, Father Daniel McMullin told attendees of the 10:30 a.m. Mass about an allegation against a Jesuit priest, who he then named as Martensen. Over 100 churchgoers in Sage Hall listened to the homily, including undergraduate and graduate students as well as other local attendees.
The USA Northeast Province of the Jesuits received an allegation against Martensen — former director and chaplain of Cornell Catholic — of sexual abuse of a minor, according to a press release from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester shared by Alice Soewito ’21, president of the Cornell Catholic Community student leadership team. The allegation dates back to the 1970s, the Diocese said.
Martensen has “stepped down” from all current assignments, the Diocese said. Martensen did not respond to requests for comment by publication time.
“Any allegation of abuse is troubling. Our thoughts are with our faith community and all who are impacted by this news,” wrote McMullin and Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, in an email to the Cornell community. The University was informed of the allegation on Saturday, according to University spokesman John Carberry.
The news of the allegation stunned students across campus.
“I was at a rest stop on the drive home from a visit to Boston when I received the news of Father Martensen’s accusation,” Josh Popp ’19 said. “I certainly experienced a sense of dread and profound disappointment reading that first line, to realize that this global tragedy has come to hit close to our Cornell community.”
Over the last two years, more than 1,260 claims of sexual abuse by clergy members have been resolved and over $228 million was paid in compensation under reconciliation programs adopted by New York’s eight Catholic dioceses, the Democrat and Chronicle reported.
“I have been a member of the Cornell Catholic community since my first year, and I’ve shaken Fr. Martensen’s hand week after week going into and out of mass,” Popp said.
The Province “has temporarily suspended Father Martensen from all current assignments and public ministry pending completion of an investigation,” McMullin and Lombardi wrote.
The University did not specify a timeline for the suspension or the process for a dismissal or reinstatement.
“Father Martensen is not an employee of Cornell University, so the investigation is being led by the Jesuits USA Northeast Province,” Carberry wrote in an email to The Sun. Martensen worked under an “affiliated” chaplaincy with the Cornell Catholic Community.
“I respected Fr. Martensen, and I cannot deny the positive effect he had on my Cornell experience,” Popp said. “But sexual abuse is absolutely, unequivocally disqualifying for the priesthood, a role that earns the respect of people from all walks of life around the world.”
The Province will conduct an investigation and the religious organization’s “independent Review Board” will issue a recommendation, according to the Diocese. The Sun could not reach the Province for comment by publication time.
Popp also expressed that change must go beyond “thoughts and prayers,” and that he would be following up on this incident in his personal and religious life by talking to peers and praying.
Martensen’s previous work spanned across many campuses and cities over the last four decades. He worked at Northern Illinois University and then Newman Catholic Student Center as a campus minister in the 1970s and spent eleven years as a chaplain at Fordham Preparatory School, followed by stints at Saint Peter’s College, Saint Anthony Church and Notre Dame.
“The Catholic communities plan to provide a space for conversation after each Mass for individuals who need support or have concerns or questions,” McMullin and Lombardi wrote, also advising impacted students to use campus resources.
Ithaca College also organized a response, sharing a list of spaces this week in which students can reflect and pray on “the painful news” in a statement by Hierald Osorto, director of the office of religious and spiritual life at I.C., where Martensen concurrently worked.
In its press release, the Diocese of Rochester noted that it did not receive an allegation against Martensen during his tenure in the Diocese.
Osorto noted this, but wrote that the existing allegation was “nonetheless deeply troubling.”
“To our knowledge the allegation dates from the 1970s and does not correlate with Cornell, past or present,” Carberry said.
More transparency is necessary in the process, Popp said.
“I think the first step is building a dialogue that believes and respects the victim, and ensures that anyone else who has been put in the same situation is able to share their story without fear of harm,” Popp said. “I also want to investigate the way the Church handles these accusations and understand the treatment faced by someone who is accused, what these investigations look like, and what happens after the investigation is complete.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual or domestic violence, The Advocacy Center in Tompkins County is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 607-277-5000 to offer free and confidential support. For Cornell resources, visit caringcommunity.cornell.edu.