Accused Newark priest resigns from ministry

Newark, N.J., May 3, 2013 / 04:02 pm (CNA).- A priest accused of sexual misconduct against a minor in 2001 has resigned from ministry with the Newark archdiocese, after acknowledging that he violated the terms of an agreement with local prosecutors.

On May 2, Fr. Michael Fugee submitted his resignation to Newark Archbishop John J. Myers, who promptly accepted it.

Having been removed from ministry, Fr. Fugee technically remains a priest, but may not celebrate the sacraments or otherwise represent himself as an active priest.

According to a 2007 agreement with prosecutors, Fr. Fugee was allowed to remain in ministry so long as he was not around children unsupervised and did not engage in youth ministry.

Within the last week, it emerged that the priest had participated in youth retreats and pilgrimages, though without the knowledge of the Newark chancery.

“He engaged in activities that the archdiocese was not aware of and that were not approved by us, and we would never have approved them because they are all in conflict with the memorandum of understanding,” archdiocesan communications director James Goodness said May 2, according to New Jersey newspaper The Star-Ledger.

In 2001, Fr. Fugee told police he had twice groped a teenage boy's crotch while they were wrestling in the presence of the boy's family members. One instance took place while he was on vacation with the boy's family in Virginia in 2000, he said, and the other was about a year prior to that.

He was charged with criminal sexual contact and endangering a child's welfare. A jury convicted him of aggravated sexual contact in 2003, but in 2006 an appellate court reversed the conviction, saying the trial court had given inadequate guidance to the jury. During his trial, he had protested that his confession to the police was false and that he had lied.

The priest came to an agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor and the Archdiocese of Newark's vicar general in 2007 requiring him to undergo two years of “sex-offender specific counseling/therapy” and avoid unsupervised engagement with minors for the entirety of his ministry.

The agreement specified that this includes prohibitions on “presiding over a parish, involvement with a youth group, religious education/parochial school, CCD, confessions of children, youth choir, youth retreats and day care.”

With the approval of an advisory board composed of laypeople and of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the archdiocese permitted Fr. Fugee to return to ministry, under those restrictive conditions.

The archdiocese appointed Fr. Fugee to extra-parochial positions in the chancery, and allowed him supervised contact with minors but prohibited his interaction alone with children.

However, it was recently revealed that Fr. Fugee later attended two youth retreats, in 2010 and 2012, and has gone on pilgrimages which included young people.

The retreats were held by St. Mary's in Colts Neck, which is in the Trenton diocese. Fr. Fugee was reportedly called to assist at the retreats by the parish's youth ministers, with whom he is good friends.

He heard the confessions of minors on these retreats, according to The Star-Ledger. The article included Facebook photos of Fr. Fugee with minors taken on the retreats.

On April 29, Goodness had told CNA that the Newark archdiocese had been “complying with the terms of the memorandum of understanding with the prosecutor's office,” and that Fr. Fugee's participation in events at St. Mary's was done without the involvement of the Newark chancery or the approval of the archbishop.

“They were not part of what the archdiocese has done in terms of abiding by the agreements. We have abided, we believe,” Goodness said.

It is not publicly known whether Newark Archbishop John J. Myers requested the resignation, but when it was offered he readily accepted it. Fr. Fugee admitted to Archbishop Myers that he had violated the terms of the 2007 agreement.

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