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.
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.”
Read the full story at NJ.com (July 21, 2013)