Rev. Robert Densmore: Remained in Ministry 9 Years after Allegation

By Benjamin Kepple
Union Leader
March 4, 2003

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Diocese of Manchester officials did not completely remove the Rev. Robert Densmore from the ministry until nine years after an abuse allegation was filed against him in 1993, documents released by the state Attorney General’s Office reveal.

The documents, which come from the state’s investigation of the diocese, also show that diocesan officials pressed the man who reported the allegation to sign an agreement keeping the matter quiet.

“Making these problems public would destroy his ability to contribute further and would affect his problems,” then-Monsignor Francis J. Christian wrote to the complainant in a May 10, 1993, letter. Christian is now the diocese’s auxiliary bishop.

“Should Father Densmore ever engage in destructive behavior, we would want you to come forward with that information, either to us or to the appropriate authorities,” Christian continued. “ . . . However, going public now would not only put you in a compromising position due to the publicity, but would also jeopardize Fr. Densmore’s limited ministry, to no constructive end.”

Christian had written the letter to the complainant after he refused to sign a confidentiality agreement with the diocese related to a proposed settlement. In a March 11, 1993, letter to the man, Christian had offered for the diocese to pay $2,110 in counseling costs the complainant had said were related to the abuse he allegedly suffered.

When that was refused, Christian followed up with the May letter. The man did not settle then, the report said.

However, the Attorney General’s Office, in a report on the Densmore case, noted that Densmore was not entirely removed from the ministry until the state started its own investigation of the diocese.

“Densmore remained in hospital ministry until May 12, 2000, when he retired from full-time active ministry. It is unclear whether he continued to engage in weekend ministry after this. His priestly faculties, however, were not revoked until February 15, 2002,” the report said.

Allegations of Densmore’s sexual misconduct first surfaced in 1985, when a female parishioner told Christian that Densmore—then at St. Catherine Parish in Charlestown — had had a homosexual experience with her son.

The attorney general’s report said it wasn’t clear whether the diocese knew how old the young man was when the incident allegedly occurred in 1983, although he reportedly was 17.

After the 1985 allegations, according to the report, Densmore resigned and took a leave of absence.

“He was reassigned to hospital ministry and ‘limited weekend ministry’ in St. Christopher’s parish in Nashua,” the report said. “There was absolutely no limit on his parish ministry.”

The report also said that in 1985, then-Bishop Odore Gendron attempted to require Densmore to attend counseling at St. Luke’s Institute, a Maryland-based treatment center for priests. That was because of alcoholism, the report said.

Densmore, however, refused in-patient treatment, and Gendron allowed him to receive outside counseling instead. Not until 1993 did medical reports or evaluations refer to Densmore’s sexual problem, the report said.

The 1993 allegations involved a man who said he was abused in the early 1970s, while Densmore was assigned to Our Lady of Fatima Parish in New London. Densmore used to baby-sit the man when he was a child, and allegedly abused the man and his younger brother, the report said.

Even after those allegations came to light, Densmore remained a priest at Elliot Hospital in Manchester until his retirement in 2000.

A total of five people have alleged Densmore abused them, with two complaints having been made in 2002.

The Attorney General’s Office said in its report that because nothing showed Densmore had been engaged in sexual misconduct with a minor after the 1993 allegations surfaced, criminal charges could not be brought against the diocese.

However, records from the investigation show that prior to Densmore’s appointment to Our Lady of Fatima Parish, the priest’s behavior had proven troublesome to the church. Records show that, as early as 1969, at least one priest felt Densmore shouldn’t be in ministry, and Densmore’s behavior reportedly was so extreme that one diocesan official called Densmore’s continued employment an act of charity.

“He is being allowed to work with you in your parish as another example of charity. In another diocese, he would have long been suspended or laicized,” Monsignor Thomas S. Hansberry wrote to the Rev. Thomas Keenan, pastor of Our Lady of Fatima, in a sharply worded letter on Jan. 18, 1974. “It seems that we have reached the point where Father Densmore must either fish or cut bait.”

Trouble between Densmore and the diocese apparently started after 1966, when he was assigned as assistant pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Salem. In a handwritten letter in which the date was not legible, he informed then-Bishop Ernest J. Primeau that he had suffered nervous tension in the extreme while working at that parish. He left Salem and sought treatment in Claremont.

“Hope to wash my hands of the past year and its unhappy memories, (Father) Frank’s (McMullen) death, etc.,” Densmore wrote in his letter.

But it was not the only time Densmore was to walk away from a parish. In February, 1969, he informed Primeau that he had left the church rectory at his next assignment, at St. Patrick Parish in Newport. He then refused to report to St. Mary Parish in Claremont, to which he had been assigned to report on April 1, 1969.

A diocesan memorandum dated March 31, 1969, of which the authorship was unclear, termed the behavior “strange.” And an April 15 letter to Bishop Primeau by the Rev. Thomas J. Hannigan describes Densmore as “either a very mixed-up kid or totally lacking in humility or perhaps a combination of both.”

According to an unsigned June 19, 1969 memo, Hannigan “really believes that Fr. Densmore is sick and that his faculties should be suspended.”

Instead, Densmore was granted a leave of absence in June, 1970.


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