Priest Resigns Oradell Post Amid Talk of Aiding Colleague with Clouded Past
By Denisa R. Superville
July 22, 2013
The pastor of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Oradell said Sunday that he’s had second thoughts about letting a priest accused of sexually molesting a teenage boy stay at the parish rectory for months.
|The Rev. Thomas Iwanowski outside St. Joseph's on Sunday.|
|Bob Hoatson hands out leaflets to parishioners at St. Joseph's Church on Sunday. |
The Rev. Thomas Iwanowski, interviewed after he celebrated the 12:30 p.m. Mass, said he has resigned effective July 31 and called it a mutual decision with the Archdiocese of Newark. He said it was based on dissatisfaction some parishioners had with his administration and leadership style.
But parishioner Daniel O’Toole said that while he has disagreed with Iwanowski on several issues, he doesn’t think those were the reasons for his departure.
“The reason he was removed, as best as I can understand it, was because he was harboring a priest with a known history for sexual predation,” O’Toole said.
Both Iwanowski and archdiocese spokesman Jim Goodness said the decision to let Monsignor Robert Chabak live at the rectory was “an act of compassion.” But Iwanowski on Sunday said, “Obviously, looking back, [Chabak] and I would both have said, ‘Well, if we knew that this was going to be such a difficulty, maybe we would have moved in a different direction.’Y” He said he met Chabak in seminary 44 years ago.
The archdiocese has been under fire in recent months over its handling of the Rev. Michael J. Fugee, who was accused of groping a 13-year-old while he served as assistant pastor at St. Elizabeth of Hungary R.C. Church in Wyckoff in 2003. The furor has led to calls for Archbishop John J. Myers to resign over his handling of the case.
Chabak was removed from the ministry in 2004 after church officials determined there was evidence to support allegations he molested a teenage boy in the 1970s. The statute of limitations had expired and Chabak was not criminally charged. Chabak wasn’t removed from the priesthood altogether but was stripped of his priestly faculties, meaning he can’t wear a collar or represent himself as a priest.
The archdiocese was made aware of a second allegation regarding Chabak in May, Goodness said Sunday.
Last fall, the archdiocese gave Chabak permission to stay temporarily at St. Joseph’s rectory near the Oradell-New Milford town line after the Toms River home in which he lived was damaged during Superstorm Sandy.
Goodness said Chabak was supervised by Iwanowski and that the permission was granted with “the full understanding that he was not to be taking part in any type of ministry.”.
“He did no ministry at all; he is not allowed to,” Iwanowski said Sunday. “He literally stayed in the rectory and did my laundry and was a nice companion for the people in the rectory. That’s all he did.”
Parishioners, however, were unaware that a priest accused of sexual molestation was living at the rectory, about a block away from St. Joseph School on Elm Street.
The archdiocese moved Chabak to a retirement home in Rutherford in February, after it became apparent that the renovations would take longer than the weeks the archdiocese had initially estimated, Goodness said.
But there were reports that Chabak returned to the parish after he was moved to the retirement home. Goodness said that would be a violation.
“Permission was not granted for him to stay at the parish any longer, so that was something we were not aware of, and I could say, categorically, that we had not given him permission to do that,” Goodness said.
Goodness said Chabak returned to his Toms River home in the spring, and that the archdiocese now considers the issue over.
O’Toole, a lawyer, said Sunday that Iwanowski’s resignation was a step in the right direction.
“I think that the whole situation is very unfortunate,” O’Toole said. “I think that Chabak should have never been given permission to live at the rectory. And I think that if the decision was being made to put him in a rectory, the least they could have done is to advise the people who send their children to the school and go to the church of his presence.”
Goodness said Iwanowski will be reassigned to another parish in September. He also said the resignation was granted because parishioners “felt that he should direct and manage the parish in a certain way, and he had a different way of looking at it.”
Goodness said the decision to provide lodging for Chabak was an act of compassion and made sense because Iwanowski and Chabak were longtime friends and there was space available at the rectory. Iwanowski said he and Chabak met in the seminary 44 years ago.
“It just seemed to be the natural thing out of sense of compassion,” Goodness said. “You have someone who has essentially become homeless.”
Iwanowski, who became pastor in 2010, said he and O’Toole had disagreed over some issues, including an increase of 10 percent in school tuition for the upcoming year.
Iwanowski had both supporters and detractors at Sunday’s Mass.
Kathleen Cronin said she knew that Iwanowski was helping a friend whose home had been damaged, but didn’t know about the allegations against Chabak. Still, she has remained an Iwanowski supporter. “I feel sad about the fact that he is leaving,” she said. “I think he has done wonderful job.”
Ann Corbett said she blames Myers for green-lighting Chabak’s stay and not informing parishioners . “I believe [Myers] should not have approved it,” she said. “Myers was obviously wrong.”
But Corbett also called “Father Tom” a wonderful priest.
“He has done so much for this church,” she said. “He had compassion; he took him in when his house was destroyed.”
Another parishioner alluded to concerns over Iwanowski’s leadership.
“It was his way,” he said. “There was no give and take with him. It was his way and that was it.”
Robert Hoatson, president of Road to Recovery Inc., was one of two men handing out leaflets Sunday expressing support for victims of clergy sexual abuse and calling for Myers’ resignation.
Hoatson said the church has repeatedly violated the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, an assertion that Goodness disputed.
“According to the [the charter], pedophile priests may not be connected in any way shape or form to a parish,” Hoatson said. “There are kids around all the time. There is a school across the street. You saw the little kids coming out of church today.
“It’s like the Father Fugee situation,” he said. “It’s unsupervised, dangerous priests being allowed to effectively just roam the area, without any kind of supervision.”
But Goodness said that the issues with Chabak and Fugee are different.
“In the case of [Chabak], that was solely the matter of the circumstances of Hurricane Sandy,” Goodness said. “Had Hurricane Sandy not occurred, we would not be talking about this situation because he would not have been living in a rectory.”
Fugee was discovered ministering to teenagers and hearing confessions, despite signing an agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office that barred him from ministering to children. He was arrested in May.
“It appears very clearly that [Fugee] did not follow the limitations on his ministry and he did not tell the diocese of the incidents that he has been charged with,” Goodness said. “Had we known about them ahead of time, we would not have given him permission for him to do that. We would have been clear with him that he could not engage in those ministry functions.”
This article contains material from The Associated Press.