Priest formerly of Newark agrees to seek laicization

Newark, N.J., Nov 14, 2013 / 02:05 am (CNA).- A priest formerly of the Newark archdiocese, accused of sexual abuse, will apply to be removed from the priesthood instead of facing criminal prosecution after breaking an agreement to avoid youth ministry.

Father Michael Fugee, 52, entered a new agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office that included laicization, the New Jersey Star-Ledger said. The agreement was announced Nov. 8.

Fr. Fugee was accused of sexually abusing a minor in 2001. After an appellate court reversed his conviction, in 2007 he made an agreement with local prosecutors that allowed him to remain in ministry so long as he was not around children unsupervised and did not engage in youth ministry.

In late April, it emerged that the priest had participated in youth retreats and pilgrimages, though without the knowledge of the Newark chancery.

The priest submitted his resignation from the archdiocese to Archbishop John Myers on May 2, 2013, and authorities arrested him May 20.

Under the new agreement, Fr. Fugee may not become a teacher, coach or counselor. He may not describe himself as “a man of God.” He must inform the prosecutor’s office about his employers, and abide by restrictions on charity or volunteer work.

In a Nov. 8 statement, the Archdiocese of Newark repeated that the archdiocese never approved the priest’s unauthorized actions that led to his investigation.

“Throughout the past nine months, the Archdiocese of Newark has cooperated fully with the investigation,” said James Goodness, vice chancellor of the archdiocese.

He noted that the priest had left ministry before Archbishop Meyers’ arrival in October 2001.

Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli in his announcement of the consent order criticized Archbishop Myers, charging that the archbishop and his deputies did not make any significant effort to monitor the priest.

“If something like this were to ever happen again, I have no intention of relying on the archdiocese to monitor these priests,” the prosecutor told the Star-Ledger. He said future monitoring was “just not going to happen.”

Goodness said this criticism was “unfairly excessive.” He said the archdioceses has acknowledged “operational failures” in dealing with the priest, but many other entities were responsible for monitoring the priest, including the prosecutor’s office itself.

He also rejected the prosecutor’s contention that the archdiocese “did not nor would ever obtain” the priest’s laicization, noting evidence and grand jury testimony from Archbishop Meyers that the archbishop had begun preliminary action toward laicization.

“At the conclusion of the first trial in 2003, Archbishop Myers petitioned Rome for permission to begin to laicize Fugee,” Goodness said. “The archbishop’s decision to request this severe sanction of removing Fugee from the priesthood was based upon the guilty verdict finding that Fugee had engaged in wrongdoing with a minor.”

Goodness said the archdiocese takes sexual misconduct accusations “very seriously” and encourages anyone with knowledge of such misconduct on the part of clergy, religious and lay staff of the archdiocese to inform the archdiocese “immediately.”

He said the archdiocese reports abuse allegations to appropriate prosecutors immediately, but also encourages victims to report allegations to the prosecutor on their own.

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