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After Rev. Martensen was accused of sexual abuse of a minor in the 1970s, students expressed shock and confusion.

March 7, 2019

Shock, Confusion Follows Reverend Martensen’s Removal From Cornell After Allegation of Sexual Abuse

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“When [Father] McMullin read the letter from the diocese, the church was silent,” Elise Viz ’22 said. “Nobody knew what to say.”

Last weekend, Catholic leadership on campus announced an allegation against Reverend Carsten Martensen of sexual abuse of a minor in the 1970s during Sunday morning Mass. Since the announcement, students have expressed a range of emotions.

The USA Northeast Province of the Jesuits first received the allegation against Martensen — former director and chaplain of Cornell Catholic — of sexual abuse of a minor, The Sun reported. The allegation dates back to the 1970s, the Diocese said.

The University learned of the allegation on March 2, according to University spokesperson John Carberry. After the Province “temporarily suspended” the Reverend from ministry duties, Martensen’s “chaplaincy privileges” were publicly revoked on March 3 through an emailed announcement to the Cornell community coauthored by Father Daniel McMullin and Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student life.

Mike Gabriele — communications director for the Province of the Jesuits — declined to comment on the specifics of the allegation that led to Martensen’s temporary suspension from ministry.

During McMullin’s homily, in which he read aloud a letter from a bishop of the Diocese to the congregation, attendees of Sunday’s morning Mass were shocked to hear about the allegation.

Martensen worked concurrently at Ithaca College until Hierald Osorto, director of I.C.’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, said that Martensen had “stepped down” from current ministrial assignments in an online statement on March 3.

I.C. campus minister John Morton said that Martensen was “experiencing fatigue” and was “with his Jesuit brothers in Massachusetts,” in an email to the Ithaca College Catholic Community on Feb. 25, The Ithacan reported.

Thérèse Russell ’20, a member of the Cornell Catholic Community, said that she also received an email on Feb. 25 that Martensen was feeling fatigued and that he would be in Massachusetts until Easter.

“There is no set timeframe for the investigation, but if the review board deems the allegation credible upon completion, Fr. Martensen Will [sic] be permanently removed from all public ministry,” Gabriele wrote in an emailed statement to the Sun.

“I have seen a wide spectrum of reactions, but most people have been expressing some degree of confusion, mostly,” Viz said.

For now, Martensen has been removed from his roles at both campuses. At Cornell, Father Dan McMullin, associate dean of students for the Office of Spirituality, has been fulfilling Martensen’s former duties, Russell said. Eileen Heptig, associate director of the Cornell Catholic Community, assumed administrative duties at Ithaca College, Osorto wrote in his statement.

The nature of the departure of Martensen — who was working at Mass as recently as Feb. 17, Russell said — left the community “very saddened,” according to Russell.

“People in the community are dealing with the news in very different ways,” Russell said. “Many are still grappling with the news and others are finding it as a way to go deeper into other aspects of their faith.”

Martensen — who served the Cornell and I.C. communities since 2007 — will face an independent investigation conducted by the USA Northeast Province of the Jesuits.

“The investigation will be fully reviewed by our independent review board that consists of mental health and legal professionals, often from law-enforcement backgrounds,” Gabriele wrote.

In the meantime, 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 has temporarily revoked Martensen’s “chaplaincy privileges.”

“Father Martensen is not an employee of Cornell University, so the investigation is being led by the Jesuits USA Northeast Province,” Carberry previously wrote in an email to The Sun. Martensen worked under an “affiliated” chaplaincy with the Cornell Catholic Community.

“Of course, I had always been aware of many other cases of abuse and assault like this within the Catholic Church at large,” Viz said. “This was something I had only ever heard about on the news, happening in other places. Not Cornell.”

The announcement of the allegation against Martensen closely followed a reported allegation against another local priest, Reverend Bernard Carges, The Democrat and Chronicle wrote. Carges worked at the downtown Immaculate Conception church and school from 1975 to 1997; a $125,000 settlement was reached in the case, according to The D&C.