nj.com (New Jersey)
on July 21, 2013 at 4:30 PM, updated July 22, 2013 at 6:15 AM
ORADELL — A Catholic priest conceded today that he may have made a mistake by arranging for a former priest once accused of molesting a teenage boy to stay in the rectory of his Bergen County parish.
“Hindsight is 20-20,” the Rev. Thomas Iwanowski of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Oradell said after services on his next-to-last Sunday there.
Iwanowski is being removed from St. Joseph by the Archdiocese of Newark as of July 31 in the wake of a scandal over the arrangement that allowed the accused priest to live at the rectory. The situation was the subject of a report in The Sunday Star-Ledger.
It was with the permission of the archdiocese that Iwanowski, 64, allowed the Rev. Robert Chabak to stay in the rectory after his mother’s home in Toms River, where he had been living, was damaged during Hurricane Sandy. The church’s elementary school is across the street from the rectory, while the middle school building is right next door.
Parishioners were not told that Chabak, 66, a friend of Iwanowski’s since the two attended seminary together four decades ago, would be staying at the rectory and only learned of his past after he was transferred to a retirement home in February. But even after that, parishioners said, Chabak would return to St. Joseph’s to spend the night. Some grew angry and demanded he be kept away.
“Obviously, looking back, Monsignor Chabak and I, if we knew this was going to be such a difficult decision, maybe we would have moved in a different direction,” Iwanowski told reporters after the 12:30 mass. “But we tried to make a compassionate decision.”
Iwanowski said he will be reassigned to another parish, though he did not know where.
Chabak was removed from the ministry in 2004 after church officials said there was credible evidence that he molested a teenage boy during a three-year period in the 1970s. The statute of limitation had expired on criminal prosecution of the crime, and he was never charged. Chabak, now back in the Toms River house, declined to comment last week.
Jim Goodness, a spokesman for Newark Archbishop John Myers, said the arrangement had been permitted, “out of a sense of compassion.”
But some parishioners called it reckless. One of them, Daniel O’Toole, who led the effort to remove Chabak, said Iwanowski and Myers were “spectacularly tone deaf” considering other sexual abuse scandals. Most recently, Myers faced calls for his own resignation following revelations that the Rev. Michael Fugee had extensive interaction with teenagers despite being banned for life from ministering to children. Fugee has since been charged with violating a judicial order.
Iwanowski said O’Toole was using the Chabak matter to force him out after the two disagreed over measures the pastor had taken to balance the budget of the parish school. Iwanowski said he had decided to raise tuition 10 percent, lay off teachers who provided religious education only, and have homeroom teachers handle religion, which would also allow them to weave religious teachings into standard academic subjects.
He said O’Toole had publicly opposed the measures during a parish school meeting two or three months ago.
The Rev. Thomas Iwanowski resigned as pastor of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church after the Rev. Robert Chabak continued to sleep at the parish. St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church
O’Toole, a 46-year-old attorney with three children at St. Joseph, dismissed the assertion as “subterfuge.”
“I don’t at all dispute that I’ve had problems with Tom’s leadership over the past two or three years,” O’Toole, who is boycotting St. Joseph until Iwanowski is gone, said in a telephone interview. But he added, “I’m not using people who are sexual victims as excuses. I’m bringing something to the attention to the archdiocese, and I was disappointed to learn that they knew about it, and they not only knew, they gave him permission.”
Robert Hoatson, a former priest now with Road to Recovery, a group that supports victims of clergy sexual abuse, was outside the church on Sunday urging parishioners to withhold monetary contributions until reforms are in place to insure transparency. Hoatson said the responses by Iwanowski and the archdiocese to the Chabak affair exemplified the church’s arrogance.
“How do you explain after Fugee — during Fugee — that they do this with Chabak?” Hoatson said. “It’s arrogance to the hilt.”
Several St. Joseph parishioners declined to comment after mass in the church’s airy, brightly lit sanctuary, where a live band of drums and, variously, guitar, piano and organ accompanied a female vocalist. Iwanowski did not discuss the Chabak matter during the service, whose themes included compassion and giving god one’s full attention.
One parishioner who did speak afterward, Phil Follety, 62 of New Milford, said it was too soon to judge Iwanowski or anyone else.
“It’s something that’s been tried in the press and we don’t have much information,” said Follety, who was in church with his wife and teenaged son. “As religion is under fire in this country today, I think we have to unify.”
Pastor outed, aided alleged abuser
Priest stayed in rectory
The Courier Post (South Jersey)
Jul. 21, 2013 11:40 PM
ORADELL — The pastor of a northern New Jersey Roman Catholic church is stepping down amid parishioners’ complaints that a priest accused of molesting a teenage boy was allowed to temporarily live in the church rectory.
The Newark Star-Ledger reports the pastor, the Rev. Thomas Iwanowski, will leave the St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Oradell on July 31.
The departure comes amid complaints about the Rev. Robert Chabak, who was removed from ministry in 2004. That came 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 66-year-old Chabak has lived in Toms River in recent years. But when his home was damaged by Superstorm Sandy, archdiocese officials allowed him to live at St. Joseph “out of a sense of compassion.”
In announcing his departure earlier this month, Iwanowksi said he met with Newark Archbishop John Myers on July 5 “to discuss the situation here.”
The two decided “it would be best” for Iwanowski to move ‘forward in faith.’ ”
The departure message did not refer to Chabak, who was removed from St. Joseph in February and transferred to a retirement home for priests in Rutherford. But parishioners said Chabak repeatedly returned to St. Joseph to spend the night.
Chabak, who is now back at his Toms River home, declined comment on the matter.
But Iwanowski said he didn’t see the harm in Chabak’s staying at the church.
“He lived in the rectory and went to Mass every day. He didn’t do anything else,” Iwanowski said.
Newark Archdiocese stirs outrage after allowing accused molester to live in parish
St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in OradellMark Mueller/The Star-Ledger
Parishioners at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Oradell first noticed the man in November. Each night, he slept in the rectory. Every morning, he attended Mass in the soaring brick church, across the street from the parish’s elementary school.
What parishioners didn’t know — what neither their pastor nor the Archdiocese of Newark told them — was that the man was an accused sexual predator.
The Rev. Robert Chabak, 66, was removed from ministry in 2004, when church officials determined there was evidence to support allegations he molested a teenage boy over a three-year period in the 1970s.
In the years since, Chabak has lived in a home once owned by his mother in the Normandy Beach section of Toms River. When Hurricane Sandy damaged that home, the archdiocese allowed him to take up residence at St. Joseph “out of a sense of compassion,” said Jim Goodness, a spokesman for Archbishop John. J. Myers.
But no one informed parishioners, who now say the archdiocese and the pastor, the Rev. Thomas Iwanowski, knowingly put children at risk.
It would be months before a few members of the parish discovered Chabak’s background. Under pressure from those parishioners, the archdiocese removed Chabak from St. Joseph in February, transferring him to a retirement home for priests in Rutherford.
A screenshot from the website of the archdiocese newspaper, the Advocate, shows the Rev. Robert Chabak in 2004, shortly before his removal from ministry. Chabak, at right in the top photo, is pictured with the Rev. Paul Bochicchio at Holy Family Church in Nutley.
But even then, parishioners said, Chabak repeatedly came back to St. Joseph to spend the night.
The furor has led to Iwanowski’s ouster as pastor, effective July 31. It also has spawned fierce criticism of the archdiocese, which has come under fire repeatedly for its handling of predator priests.
Most recently, Myers faced calls for his resignation in April and May after it was revealed the Rev. Michael Fugee had extensively interacted with teenagers despite a lifetime ban on ministry to children. Fugee has since been criminally charged with violating a judicial order.
Daniel O’Toole, the parishioner who led the effort to remove Chabak from St. Joseph, called Iwanowski and Myers “spectacularly tone deaf” given revelations about clergy sexual abuse and said the church has repeated its “past sins” by “recycling a problem priest into an unsuspecting community.”
“If these last two painful decades of scandal have taught us anything, it is that those who have engaged in sexual predation of children will continue to do so for as long as they are permitted access to children,” said O’Toole, 46, an attorney whose three children attend St. Joseph School.
“That access, in and of itself, presents a danger,” he said. “By allowing this man to live in the rectory within close proximity to parish children, schoolchildren and CCD students, the church breached its duty to its people.”
Several other parishioners have expressed similar anger and frustration but declined to speak for attribution. O’Toole said he is speaking for them.
Mark Crawford, the New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national advocacy group, called Chabak’s placement at St. Joseph “truly disturbing.”
The Rev. Thomas Iwanowski resigned as pastor of St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church after the Rev. Robert Chabak continued to sleep at the parish.St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church
“It is absolutely reckless to take this chance with a known predator,” Crawford said. “Why are we still taking such risks and not informing parents and parishioners? Clearly, the archbishop is not being on the level or honest with the people in the pews.”
Chabak, who is now back in the Normandy Beach home, declined to comment when a reporter knocked on his door last week.
Voter registration records show he shares the home with Iwanowski, 64, when the pastor is not at St. Joseph.
In a brief interview outside the Oradell rectory, Iwanowski said he didn’t see the harm in Chabak’s stay at the church.
“He lived in the rectory and went to Mass every day. He didn’t do anything else,” Iwanowski said. “I don’t see the problem with that.”
Asked about the propriety of Chabak visiting the parish after his removal, Iwanowski said, “He came for dinner. You have friends, don’t you? He simply came for dinner and visited a friend. Does it matter that he stayed over?”
The pastor called it “interesting” that people were watching the rectory to note Chabak’s comings and goings. He also said the controversy has been largely manufactured.
“There were people who had problems with my administration of the parish, and this gave them something to latch onto,” he said.
Iwanowski announced his resignation in the July 14 edition of the church bulletin. He wrote that he met with the archbishop July 5 “to discuss the situation here” and that he and Myers “reached the conclusion it would be best for me to move ‘forward in faith.’” The message did not name Chabak.
A view of the Rev. Robert Chabak’s house in Normandy BeachMark Mueller/The Star-Ledger
Goodness, the archdiocese spokesman, would not say if Myers personally approved Chabak’s move to St. Joseph, calling it an archdiocese decision.
The spokesman said the placement was the result of an “extraordinary circumstance” given the extensive damage to Chabak’s house.
“When this situation happened, it was logical to see if Chabak could be put up at St. Joseph for a little while with his friend, and there was space available,” Goodness said. “It was somebody answering a call for help in an emergency time.”
He said Chabak was moved to the retirement home in Rutherford when it became clear it would take longer to repair his house than originally thought. Iwanowski, Goodness said, was well aware of Chabak’s restriction on ministry and ensured the suspended priest did not take part in parish life other than attend Mass.
Chabak, ordained in 1972, was assigned to St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Elizabeth when he allegedly molested a 15-year-old boy for three years in the 1970s, authorities told The Star-Ledger in 2004, when the allegation was reported.
The statute of limitations had long since expired, and Chabak was not criminally charged.
But an investigation by the archdiocese showed there was “sufficient information to begin a canonical process,” Goodness said.
While the church declined to laicize Chabak, or remove him from the priesthood altogether, it stripped him of his priestly faculties, meaning he may not wear a collar or represent himself as a priest in any way.
The rectory at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, seen here, became home to the Rev. Robert Chabak after Hurricane Sandy damaged his house in Ocean County.Mark Mueller/The Star-Ledger
The archdiocese has allowed him at least two exceptions to the ban, giving him permission to preside over the funerals of his mother and his aunt, Goodness said. The aunt’s funeral was held at St. Joseph in June of last year.
In recent months, the archdiocese has been made aware of a second allegation against Chabak, Goodness said.
The accuser, an Essex County attorney, told The Star-Ledger he was a 14-year-old altar boy at St. Mary of the Assumption in Elizabeth when Chabak invited him and another teen to Normandy Beach for a weekend in December 1977.
The newspaper has agreed to withhold the man’s name because he is an alleged victim of attempted sexual abuse.
The lawyer said Chabak brought him to see the R-rated movie “Saturday Night Fever” and tried to “initiate” him into the priest’s “club.”
“To be part of the club you had to strip down naked and run around while he photographed it,” the man said.
The accuser said he refused.
Later that night, he said, he was sleeping on Chabak’s living room floor when he awoke to find the priest straddling him and trying to remove his shirt. The other teen, a 15-year-old, was holding his legs, participating in the attack, the man said.
He said he managed to punch Chabak in the face and free himself, then ran and hid in the bushes.
“I never went back to the church,” he said. “In that one incident, he stole my childhood and innocence. I’ve been emotionally detached ever since. That moment was defining to me. He ruined me.”
A view of St. Joseph Parish School, which sits across the street from the church and the rectory.Mark Mueller/The Star-Ledger
The man said he kept the attempted assault a secret for decades, eventually telling his mother and brother. By happenstance, he learned about Chabak’s move into St. Joseph parish from a friend.
He has since made contact with O’Toole, the Oradell parishioner, and shared the story with him. O’Toole, in turn, passed the information on to the archdiocese, though he did not provide the accuser’s name.
In June, Goodness referred the case to the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. A spokesman for that office, Al Della Fave, said law enforcement is eager to speak to the alleged victim, though it appears a criminal case would be barred by the statute of limitations.
“Ocean County prosecutor’s officials are willing to help him in any way they can,” Della Fave said.
The man has declined to speak to the archdiocese and says he has no intention of filing a lawsuit. What he wants, he said, is for Chabak to be kept as far away from children as possible.
O’Toole called his fight to remove Chabak extremely difficult and disillusioning, saying he cares deeply about the Catholic church and his parish, which he has attended his entire life.
“I’ve had people suggest to me I should just let this go, and I shouldn’t stand up and speak the truth because it’s going to cause potential harm to the church or to the school,” O’Toole said.
“And to those folks, I would suggest looking the other way and not giving voice to these things is what has put us in this position — this position where we’re constantly putting out fires created by church administrators and bad priests,” he said. “Honesty is the only true hope for the future of the Roman Catholic church in the United States of America.”