It appears that this might be the case, if I’m reading the letter that Archbishop Meyers wrote to the priests of the Archdiocese of Newark back in February correctly. Of course, he may not have known that Fr. Fugee was violating the agreement with the local Prosecutors Office, though there seems to be plenty of evidence pointing in that direction.
That letter to priests, along with a links to the confession Fr. Fugee gave police in 2001, and the Memorandum of Understanding between the Archdiocese and the Bergen County Prosecutors Office, are included in another of a series of articles published recently in The Star Ledger. Yesterday, Mark Meullar reported the following,
Greeting the deepest crisis of his 12-year tenure with silence, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers faced new calls for his resignation yesterday from two New Jersey lawmakers, who blasted him for allowing a priest to minister to children despite a lifetime ban on such interaction.
Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) said the archbishop has displayed “arrogance” and a lack of common sense over his handling of the Rev. Michael Fugee, 52, who admitted fondling a 14-year-boy in 2001.
Under the terms of a binding agreement with authorities six years later, Fugee and the archdiocese vowed the priest would not work in any position involving children.
Yet for the past several years, Fugee has attended youth retreats, heard confessions from minors in private rooms and traveled to Canada with children from a Monmouth County parish, The Star-Ledger reported earlier this week.
“Enough is enough,” said Vitale, who has pushed for laws that aid victims of sexual abuse. “Based on everything that’s happened, not just in New Jersey but around the country and the world, you have to follow the spirit of the law, and they have not done that in this case. Zero tolerance is zero tolerance.”
Myers, the state’s highest ranking Roman Catholic official, was not alone in facing scathing criticism. At St. Mary’s Parish in Colts Neck, longtime parishioners called for the removal of the pastor, the Rev. Thomas Triggs, and the removal of the two youth ministers who invited Fugee to take part in youth group activities.
The lay minsters, Michael and Amy Lenehan, are longtime friends with Fugee. A spokesman for the Newark Archdiocese has said Triggs and the Lenehans knew of the priest’s past and of the agreement Fugee reached with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office in 2007. The three were monitoring Fugee accordingly, the spokesman has said.
But like the lawmakers, parishioners said it was clear Fugee should not have been in the presence of children at all, supervision or no supervision.
“There aren’t enough words to describe how we feel,” said Grace Collins, 68, a member of the parish for three decades. “It is a betrayal. It is their job to keep children safe, and they brought a known pedophile into their midst. The pastor should resign immediately. The Lenehans should be removed from ministry immediately.”
Triggs and the Lenehans have not responded to requests for comment.
In Archbishop Meyers’ letter to his priests, he goes to great length to emphasize the importance of restoring the reputation of priests “who return to ministry if so permitted.” He goes on to say,
This sometimes can be difficult, because of the notoriety that a particular case involving a priest or deacon may generate. But if the legal process brings a not guilty verdict or dismissal of charges, and the Church’s inquiry under the (Dallas) Charter concludes that no sexual abuse took place, then the Charter requires, and the individual priest deserves, a return to ministry.
The Archdiocese followed all of these elements of the charter and the Memorandum of Understanding in the more-than-a-decade-old case involving Father Michael Fugee. At the end of the entire process, Father Fugee’s acquittal and dismissal of charges, and the Review Board’s conclusion that no sexual abuse occurred, guided me in my decision to return him to ministry. It is also important to note that , in reaching my decision, the recommendation of the County Prosecutor regarding Father Fugee’s ability to return to ministry and future assignments in ministry carried great weight. We have followed those recommendations fully.
I can understand standing by your troops when they have been accused of sexual abuse. I can understand fully investigating incidents, and waiting until accused priests have been either cleared of charges, or have been found to have committed crimes, before either restoring them to, or permanently removing priests from ministry, and having them arrested, etc. But in this case what is absurd, given that Fr. Fugee confessed to behavior that endangered the wellbeing of children whom he was tasked to shepherd, and for which he would be subject him to both censure, and having criminal charges made against him, he still seems to have been allowed to minister to teenagers regardless of the MOU’s requirements (see Article 4) that he not be allowed to do so.
There seems to be plenty of photographic evidence that Fr. Fugee violated the Memorandum of Understanding. It should come as no surprise, then, that this story is not going away anytime soon, or that folks are asking their elected representatives to look into these matters further.
Kevin O’Brien analyses similarities between what is happening in Newark, with what happened in Kansas City. The upshot?
It is not surprising that our shepherds fall short of the high standards of the Christian Faith. It is surprising that they don’t even rise to the low standards of the secular world.
The Bergen County prosecutor, John Molinelli, pointedly disagreed Monday with that interpretation of the agreement — which he called “a very clear document” — but would say little more except that his office is conducting an open-ended investigation.