In re removal of Rev. Iwanowski

The New Jersey press reports that Father Thomas Iwanowski, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, is being removed and transferred by the Archdiocese after he allowed another priest to live temporarily in the rectory. The other priest, Monsignor Robert Chabak, was accused a decade ago of an incident of abuse that allegedly took place in the 1970s. Since the abuse scandal, radars are set to a hair trigger with regard to anything involving abuse or the suggestion of it, and not inappropriately-so, cf. The Finn Indictment, 1 MPA 51 (2012). Moreover, I am sure that Archbishop Myers has better information than I do, and so I must be careful to keep my remarks conditional. Nevertheless, it’s not clear to me that Fr. Iwanowski’s error merited removal.

The story reported by is that from sometime after October 28, 2012 until February 2013, a period of roughly three months, Iwanowski permitted Msgr. Chabak to stay at the rectory because the house in which he had been living had been rendered uninhabitable by Hurricane Sandy. Like many others, Chabak had become a refugee, cf. CCC ¶ 2447. Chabak, for his part, had been accused of having committed abuse in the 1970s—accused. Unnamed officials concluded in 2004 that there was credible evidence, but he was never “convicted,” figuratively or literally; not every allegation is true, not everything that is plausible is credible, and not everything that is credible is factual.

Nevertheless, even the accusation can be a source of scandal, and Iwanowski wisely sought the opinion of the archdiocese before hosting Chabak. This is important: Iwanowski did not act alone. He sought permission from the Archdiocese, which agreed to the arrangement “out of a sense of compassion.”

And now the Archdiocese is punishing Iwanowski for doing something to which it assented only months ago. Worse yet, they are not only cutting off Iwanowski at the knees, but also his successor, insofar as the appearance is that they removed him at the behest of a malcontent layman. I have no brief to defend a priest who permits Mass to be accompanied by “a live band of drums and … guitar,” but to fault Iwanowski’s compassion would seem churlish if he had done it without the archdiocese’s permission; it would seem unjust if the archdiocese gave permission. From priest to patsy.