KENOSHA — St. Peter pastor Fr. Ireneusz Chodakowski has been cleared by the Kenosha Police Department of any illegal activity following an investigation into a post he made to his personal Facebook page.
Fr. Chodakowski of the Massachusetts-based order, Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, was placed on administrative leave Nov. 11, and a letter written by Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, the order’s provincial superior, was read at all parish Masses the following weekend explaining that Fr. Chodakowski had used a “lack of good judgment regarding his personal Facebook page.”
Detective Bureau Commander Capt. Eric Larsen told your Catholic Herald Monday, Nov. 25, that the investigation that began Nov. 15, concluded Nov. 22.
“He posted a link on his Facebook page to an article that was in Polish, and there was absolutely nothing illegal about it,” he said, explaining the part in question was “a nude image, thumbnail.”
A second letter Fr. Chwalek wrote to parishioners, read at all Masses last weekend, explained that the post “was intended to be a warning to the parents about their 18 year olds’ poor use of social media.”
Much of what Fr. Chodakowski has posted to his personal Facebook account, some of which is in Polish, under his name, Ireneusz Chodakowski Mic, and in the St. Peter Parish Group, can be identified as prayers – like the Guardian Angel prayer and a prayer to say before receiving the sacrament of confession; links to inspiring stories and to the Vatican website for the encyclical “Lumen Fidei”; pro-life materials; news about and words of Pope Francis; teaching tools, e.g., like links to articles on the etiquette for Mass, why Catholics have to get married in church, praying as a couple and daily reflections on the power of forgiveness; quotes by Mother Teresa, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you,” and by Pope Francis, “Christians are called to trust in the Lord, even in the most extreme situations.”
Carmen Zires left a comment in the St. Peter Parish Group thanking Fr. Chodakowski for a piece he shared on Nov. 1 about All Souls’ Day that explained the theological basis for the feast that Catholics celebrate Nov. 2.
“Thank you Fr. I for posting this and all the other great information you constantly post. God Bless!”
Some of the posts he shares are more light-hearted, like a YouTube video, “Christmas Food Court Flash Mob, Hallelujah Chorus – Must See!”; and photos including baby turtles riding on a larger turtle’s back with “Family Outing” as a caption; a crucifix with a message “Thank you Jesus for dying for us on the cross”; as well as photos from parish events and his travels.
Many of his “likes,” which include pages for health (Juicing Vegetables) and photos (Nature Photobook), are religious-based, too, like Fatima Center, St. Peter’s Parish – Kenosha, WI, I Am Pro-Life, Catholic Daily, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Mother Teresa, Catholics Restoring Culture, Zenit News Agency.
In the post in question, Fr. Chodakowski reportedly warned parents about the dangers facing their teens and linked to a video that wasn’t accessible.
“When this posting became known, standard procedures for addressing any possible breach of ethical standards went into effect,” Fr. Chwalek wrote.
The appropriate church and civil authorities were contacted to intiate an investigation, he said in the letter.
In a press release dated Nov. 22, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee acknowledged the full cooperation of the order “in addressing this possible violation of the standards of professional ethics expected of church leaders. They assured that the procedures of their own religious order were followed and the expectations of the archdiocese were met.”
In his letter, Fr. Chwalek also assured parishioners that St. Peter’s is in good hands.
“Last weekend’s announcement at the parish caused rightful concern and worry among the parishioners. Local news media basing most of their information on anonymous source (sic) gave rise to a speculation of serious, possible illegal, wrongdoings,” he wrote. “Investigation that brings out the truth is slow. This Friday, we have been informed that the civil investigation by the police department was concluded with the finding that there was no criminal activity.”
Marian Fr. Bill Hayward, pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish, and former pastor of St. Peter, was assigned as temporary administrator of the parish indefinitely.
“The assessment process is continuing,” Fr. Hayward told your Catholic Herald in a telephone interview, noting that Fr. Chwalek will assist Fr. Chodakowski in an assessment of the entire situation. “The Kenosha police rightly determined there was nothing criminal – there was never anything criminal – but now the assessment process will continue.”
Fr. Hayward said he was disappointed in what he described as “bad journalism” following news of the investigation, but he also said the church has fair policies.
“I think that we have, fortunately – very fortunately – in the Catholic Church, hard-won, good policies that are fair all around – they’re fair for a person, for instance, who made an inappropriate post. They’re fair for people who maybe have seen that post. …” he said. “When other parties enter into it, such as maybe local media or even national media, they sort of, you might say, hamper the just and the fair investigation that has to happen; they hamper it, but fortunately things go on as they’re supposed to.”
He said parishioners have been supportive of their pastor, and reacted similarly both weeks.
“That they’re praying for the parish, and for Fr. Ireneusz,” Fr. Hayward said. “They’re grateful that I was able to be there to help them out.”
Fr. Hayward and the parish staff will continue to ensure the parish’s sacramental, pastoral and administrative needs are met until the order completes its assessment.
“St. Peter is a great parish. …” he said. “They have the kind of faith and support that will help them weather through this.”
Fr. Hayward said he thinks Fr. Chodakowski, who has been a priest for 35 years and grew up in communist Poland, is holding up, too.
“He’s holding up well, but it’s got to be weighing on him. …” he said. “I have not heard of him being despondent or depressed or terribly withdrawn. I think he sees that we’ll go through this and the appropriate assessment will be made and the right decisions will take place.”
Leonard H. Cohen, of the firm Cohen Kinne Valicenti & Cook LLP, the attorney representing the order, told your Catholic Herald Tuesday a decision will come “sooner than later” in terms of what the order’s next step will be.
“The matter is now back in the laps of the Marians to make a determination as to where they go from here, and they’re taking a long, hard look at it, but they haven’t reached any firm conclusions at this point,” Cohen said.