Children, Child Molesters and Pinocchio’s Nose

Heads are rolling in the Father Fugee scandal. 


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Father Thomas J Triggs

Father Thomas J Triggs, pastor of St Mary Parish, Colts Neck, NJ and Michael and Amy Lenehan, parish youth ministers at the same church have resigned their positions. The reason is that they allowed Father Fugee to participate in parish ministries with children, despite his record as a convicted child molester. 

I would guess that this puts the St Mary Parish into quite an uproar with people taking sides either for or against their former pastor. 

It’s difficult for Protestants to understand the emotional bond that Catholics form with their parish priests. These men hear our confessions, comfort us when we in pain and listen to our most scalding confidences. 

It is beyond difficult to suddenly be faced with assertions that the pastor you’ve trusted so completely has betrayed you in such a fundamental matter. I have no doubt that the entire parish of St Mary is suffering from a sense of betrayal and confusion. 


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The Lenehans and Father Fugee

It appears that the Lenehans are long-time friends of Father Fugee. According to a news report, he publicly thanked them for standing by him when he was convicted of child abuse. 

I understand sticking with a friend when he falls into disgrace. If you love someone, you don’t stop loving them when they get into trouble. What I don’t understand is putting a convicted child abuser in contact with children. 

The Lenehans are saying that they did not know about the agreement between Fugee and prosecutors that he would not come into contact with children. Even if that’s true, they still must have known that he was a convicted child abuser. That alone is reason enough to keep him away from children. 

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It doesn’t matter if they thought he was innocent. It doesn’t matter if the conviction was overturned on a technicality. Their responsibility to the children of St Mary Parish, as well as their responsibility to the entire parish and the Church should have been important enough for them to not put a convicted child molester in contact with children. 

One of the things I’ve seen with people who are tempted to molest children is that they always find ways to put themselves into contact with children. Once they’re caught, they tell the judge sad tales about how they fought their dark impulses. But they also always seek out positions where they will have access to children. 

The debate seems to be what did this parish priest know. I’m guessing, but I would imagine that a conviction of a brother priest for child molesting right there in his own state might just have been something that this priest was aware of. If he did know, then so far as I’m concerned, he’s in the same slot as the Lenehans. Ignorance of an agreement with prosecutors is a technicality. 

If someone is convicted of child molesting responsible people do not place them in positions where they will be in contact with children. 

I do not understand why it’s necessary to say this. It’s obvious. Like Pinocchio’s nose. 

From the Trenton Diocese website:

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., has accepted the resignation of Father Thomas J. Triggs as pastor of St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck, effective immediately. The May 4 resignation follows recent reports that Father Michael Fugee, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, had assisted in several activities of the parish’s youth group despite having been restricted from such ministry in an agreement with law enforcement authorities in Bergen County.

 

Bishop O’Connell has granted Father Triggs a period of sabbatical before he will be given a new assignment. A parish administrator will be appointed for St. Mary Parish.

 

In one of his last official acts as pastor, Father Triggs accepted the resignations of Michael and Amy Lenehan, parish youth group ministers, effective immediately. The Lenehans had invited Father Fugee to take part in youth ministry events without ensuring that he would have been cleared for such ministry in compliance with the Diocese of Trenton’s policies.

 

The Diocese of Trenton released a statement April 29 reporting that it was first made aware of the presence of Father Michael Fugee at a youth retreat held in St. Mary Parish through an inquiry from the media on April 23, 2013.  The statement stipulated that Father Fugee had been given no permission to exercise ministry there by the Diocese nor had he filed with the Chancery the “letter of suitability” required of all priests outside of the Diocese before they are to conduct ministry here.   

 

According to that statement, upon learning of Father Fugee’s activities, Bishop O’Connell immediately contacted Father Triggs and indicated that Father Fugee may not exercise ministry there, including any ministry involving youth.  Bishop O’Connell then contacted officials in the Archdiocese of Newark to inform them of developments concerning Father Fugee.

 

In 2001, Father Fugee, while serving in Wycoff, was convicted of criminal sexual contact with a minor. That conviction was later overturned on appeal for procedural reasons. Rather than retry the case, authorities offered Father Fugee the opportunity to undergo counseling and rehabilitation and agree to limited ministry that would preclude access to children and youth. In compliance with those restrictions, the Archdiocese had given Father Fugee responsibilities in the Chancery in Newark. (Read the rest here.)

 

  • John Miller

    It’s good to hear that these incredibly reckless and irresponsible people resigned, though I think that they should of been sacked, in disgrace.

    Does resigning prevent them from turning up somewhere else, in the future? NONE of these people should ever again hold positions of authority over children, or over those who are involved with children! They are simply too irresponsible and negligent.

    Thank you for posting, Rebecca. :)

    • hamiltonr

      John, from what I’ve read, Ms Lenehan teaches in the parish school at St Mary Parish. It appears she will continue in that position — at least for now.

      • TheodoreSeeber

        I’d be worried if my child was in her class.

        • pagansister

          Ditto—she seems to have a severe lack of judgement. Wonder if the school will continue to employ her.

          • TheodoreSeeber

            Or at least a lack of something. Reports from the meeting at St. Mary’s claim that she didn’t know about the conviction. But how could she have been friends with this priest for a couple of decades without knowing?

            • pagansister

              Good question—or is she just trying to keep her job by claiming not to have known about his conviction? Guess we won’t know.

              • TheodoreSeeber

                More her friends- this was a closed door parish meeting. I can imagine this incident doing a lot of damage to the parish family.

  • Jennifer Fitz

    It can be hard to tell a real molester from someone falsely accused. The red flag was the worming his way back into youth ministry despite the court order otherwise. That signals a “the rules don’t apply to me” mentality that is the hallmark of serious underlying problems.

    Unfortunately, those who pose a real danger in parishes are often charming and well-spoken, and it is very difficult for colleagues and superiors to believe the evidence against them — usually coming from someone who is far less polished, often quite agitated, and therefore far less persuasive.

    It seems the USCCB needs to come up with a mechanism for background-checking folks who slip below the criminal records searches. To prevent any claims of ignorance.

    • TheodoreSeeber

      Now that’s a good idea, but I’d go further. I think the Vatican should develop a centralized world wide database that any chancery office can access for an instant church records background check on any priest, diocesan or in any order. No actual information need be present other than identity and if this priest has ever been suspended for any reason. If the flag comes up, that signals the need for further investigation.

      • Jennifer Fitz

        That’s a good idea. Like it.

  • pagansister

    What is it about being “convicted of child molestation” that is so hard to understand? Not accused—CONVICTED—big difference. But even with being accused, the smart thing to do is—yes–remove the person until the situation is settled—guilty or not guilty. Unfortunately even if found not guilty, there will always be a suspicion. But having been convicted? Hello! No suspicion. Gone, IMO, is the total trust of a priest, minister, rabbi etc. The Catholic school I taught in had a rule—-if in a room alone with a child the door was NEVER closed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Nunez/100000281459047 Chris Nunez

    Enablers, that’s what they are.

    It’s mind boggling that there are people who will knowingly allow a child molester, a convicted abuser work or be around children. It’s one thing to remain in a friendship with this person, but it’s quite something else to allow him to be around children. It’s downright irresponsible and negligent, and they should never be entrusted with the care of anybody elses children… ever.