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Catholic parishioners revolt against sexual predators but will it kill the Church?

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Archbishop John J Myers

Daniel O’Toole had enough.

O’Toole, and other parishioners at St. Joseph’s Church in Oradell, New Jersey, part of the Archdiocese of Newark, have spent the past week up in arms.  They have been handing out leaflets before and after Mass. 

And on Wednesday, July 31, St. Joseph’s pastor, Reverend Thomas Iwanowski, will step down, following what Iwanowski has described as a series of disagreements over his leadership style.

However, O’Toole told the Bergen Record that there is just one reason it became necessary for Iwanowski to step down.

“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.

And so it goes.

Even prior to this latest allegation, their had been calls for the resignation of Newark Archbishop John J. Myers.  Earlier this month, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan also came under fire, accused of shielding church finances even as known abusers remained in the priesthood for years.

And so, it seems as if parishioners have realized that they must take action into their own hands.  This has been part of a quiet revolution across the Catholic Church, especially since the extent of abuse allegations has become painfully clear in the past decade.

Or painfully clear to the people in the pews, anyway.

Parish and diocesan officials, on the other hand, have proven time and time again that they still don’t grasp the depth and seriousness of the sexual abuse crisis plaguing the Catholic Church.  It has left thousands of sex abuse victims scarred for life.  It has sickened parishioners to such a great extent that many have abandoned the church completely. 

This crisis has also, it should be noted, taken attention away from the charitable works the church still admirably performs, and the many dedicated priests who are a source of comfort to their parishioners.

The latest bit of abhorrent news on this front came from the leafy, north Jersey borough of Oradell.
Attorney Daniel O’Toole is among the more active parishioners at St. Joseph’s, even funding scholarships for local students. 

But late last year, parishioners noticed a new priest who was spending nights in the St. Joseph’s rectory.  It turned out to have been Reverend Robert Chabak, whose home in Toms River, New Jersey, had been damaged by Superstorm Sandy.


It also turns out that in 2004, Chabak had been removed from the ministry, when church officials discovered that there was evidence that Chabak had molested a teenaged boy decades earlier. A second allegation has also since come to light, according to the Star Ledger newspaper.

Despite this, the Newark Archdiocese approved of Chabak staying at the St. Joseph’s rectory, which is located right near St. Joseph’s grammar school.

Iwanowski has said offering shelter to Chabak was an act of compassion and that the archdiocese approved the move solely because Chabak was instructed to do no priestly work whatsoever. 

Furthermore, they note that once allegations about Chabak’s sordid past came to light, he was promptly relocated.

Nevertheless, Chabak was spotted once again at St. Joseph’s. 

This is also the same archdiocese that has been under fire over its handling of another priest, Reverend Michael J. Fugee, who had been accused of touching a 13-year-old while at another Jersey church. 

And yet, earlier this year, Fugee still managed to attend youth retreats and interact with children, in a case that led to the demotion of the Newark Archdiocese’s vicar general John Doran, and spurred calls for Archbishop Meyers’ resignation.

Once again, this week, parishioners had to hear about how Newark Archdiocese officials approved the placement of a priest with a dark past in a local parish.  Church higher-ups better listen to the calls for change coming from the pews. 

If they continue to ignore them, sure, those calls for change might eventually go away.

But that’s only because the pews will be empty.

(Contact Sidewalks at tdeignan.blogspot.com)

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