Effective immediately. The news came earlier this evening, via The Star-Ledger’s Mark Mueller,
The Roman Catholic priest at the center of a public furor enveloping Newark Archbishop John J. Myers has resigned from ministry, a spokesman for the archdiocese said tonight.
The Rev. Michael Fugee, who attended youth retreats and heard confessions from minors in defiance of a lifetime ban on such behavior, submitted his request to leave ministry this afternoon, said the spokesman, Jim Goodness. Myers promptly accepted Fugee’s request, Goodness said.
Fugee, 52, will remain a priest — only the Vatican may grant a leave from that role — but will no longer have authority to represent himself as a priest, say Mass or perform any Sacramental work, Goodness said.
Asked if Myers had requested that Fugee step aside, Goodness said, “I only know that he offered to leave ministry and the archbishop accepted.”
Earlier this week, The Star-Ledger reported Fugee had seemingly violated the agreement with law enforcement, openly engaging in youth group activities at St. Mary’s Parish in Colts Neck. Fugee is longtime friends with the church’s youth ministers, Michael and Amy Lenehan.
Since the disclosure, Goodness has argued Fugee did not violate the agreement because he was under the supervision of the youth ministers or other priests.
Tonight, the spokesman sought to clarify his statements, saying that while it was “good” Fugee was under supervision, the priest did not seek permission from the archdiocese ahead of time.
“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,” Goodness said.
Fugee, the spokesman added, acknowledged to Myers that he violated the agreement, an admission that could lead to more trouble for him down the line.
The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into Fugee when The Star-Ledger alerted the agency late last week. The assistant prosecutor who authored the agreement told the newspaper Fugee could face civil penalties, criminal charges or both.
Goodness said he believed Fugee remained within the archdiocese today. Now that he is out of ministry, however, it is not clear whether he will continue to reside there, the spokesman said.****
Even in the face of Fugee’s decision to walk away from ministry, the criticism of Myers continued tonight.
“Father Fugee should have been fired and removed from ministry by Archbishop Myers years ago, not simply allowed to resign today,” said Mark Crawford, New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national advocacy and support group. “There must be consequences for those that enabled his continued access to children.
“If the Archbishop went to such great lengths to protect Father Fugee, then it’s likely he may be protecting others,” he said. “He has failed to be transparent, open and honest, and for that Archbishop Myers must step down.”