Clerical Culture, Newark Division
By Mark Silk
July 24, 2013
Imagine two teachers at a private school who are good friends, and one is fired by the headmaster as the result of credible accusations that he molested a teenage boy 25 years ago. The dismissed teacher relocates to his beach house where his friend also goes to live when he is not in residence on campus.
A decade after the dismissal, the house is damaged in a storm and the headmaster gives permission for the man to come live on campus with his friend. The rest of the school is not told anything about the man’s past. When the story comes out, the friend is forced to resign.
This is a secularized version of the story reported in the Newark Star Ledger by Mark Mueller on Sunday, about two priests of the Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, Robert Chabak and Thomas Iwanowski. The headmaster? Archbishop John J. Myers, of course.
Myers’ spokesman, Jim Goodness, explained to Mueller that the decision to let Chabak stay at Iwanowski’s rectory was made “out of a sense of compassion.” As for Iwanowski, his comment to Mueller was, “He lived in the rectory and went to Mass every day. He didn’t do anything else. I don’t see the problem with that.”
The problem, in a nutshell, is clerical culture, in which compassion for fellow priests takes precedence over truth, justice, propriety, and responsible oversight.
The problem, as well, is that there’s no board of trustees this side of Rome to whom bishops report. When the parish learned who Chabak was and an uproar ensued, it was Iwanowski, not Myers, who got the heave-ho.
And while we’re on the subject of Newark’s clerical culture, let’s recall the case of Michael Fugee, the priest who was found to be hearing children’s confessions and going on camp trips with them after he and the archdiocese signed a court order forbidding him from ministering to minors.
Initially, the archdiocese contended that the order actually only forbade Fugee from ministering to minors without supervision. But in an article on the case in the Bergen Record Sunday, Jeff Green calls attention to a 2010 brief from the Bergen County prosecutor’s office that gives the lie to that interpretation. It states that Fugee “agreed that he would never supervise or minister to any children under the age of 18 and that he would never have any unsupervised contact with children.” (italics in original)
In the brief, the prosecutor charged that both Fugee and archdiocese “recently teetered on a potential violation of his agreed to restrictions” when Fugee was assigned to serve as a chaplain at St. Michael’s Hospital. The Fugee and Chabak-Iwanowski affairs both show that, when it comes to priests charged with abuse, the Archdiocese of Newark does what it can to keep the norms of clerical culture intact.