Sex-Abuse Suit Targets Newark Archbishop Myers' Former Diocese in Illinois
By Lisa Arthur
May 5, 2013
While the leader of the Archdiocese of Newark is under intense scrutiny for his handling of a Wyckoff priest-abuse case, Archbishop John J. Myers is also being faulted by those bringing a civil lawsuit in Illinois, claiming that the diocese he led there as a bishop failed to keep an alleged pedophile priest away from children.
The suit, filed in 2008 against the Diocese of Peoria, and Monsignor Thomas Maloney, claims that the plaintiff Andrew Ward was molested by Maloney in 1995 and 1996, when he was about 8 years old. The alleged abuse of the boy began a year after a woman had alleged to the diocese that she had been molested by Maloney in her childhood, according to the suit.
“The diocese did not further investigate the report … did not do a follow-up interview with the woman, did not ask Maloney’s fellow co-workers about his activities and didn’t contact law enforcement with the information,” the suit alleges.
News of the Illinois litigation comes amid questions about how the Newark Archdiocese managed the Rev. Michael Fugee, a former assistant pastor at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Wyckoff who was convicted in 2003 of aggravated criminal sexual contact on allegations he repeatedly groped a 13-year-old boy.
That conviction was overturned by an appellate panel, which found that the trial judge should not have allowed the jury to hear a part of Fugee’s confession in which he questioned his sexual identity.
Instead of being retried, Fugee entered a special probation program for first-time offenders, in 2007. The terms of the Pretrial Intervention Program required him to serve a two-year probationary term, undergo sex-offender-specific counseling and have no contact with the victim.
He also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, which ordered him not to be unsupervised with children, minister to children or hold church positions involving children.
Last week, The Star-Ledger reported that Fugee had participated in several outings of a Monmouth County youth group, including hearing children’s confessions in one-to-one settings in the years since signing the agreement.
The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating whether Fugee and the archdiocese violated that agreement. State Sen. Barbara Buono, the leading Democratic challenger to Governor Christie, last week called for Myers’ resignation because of his initial defense of Fugee, and victims’ advocates across the country demanded an investigation of the archdiocese.
Later last week, two former parishioners described their efforts to prompt the archdiocese to act on the allegations against Fugee in Wyckoff when they first arose. But a lawyer for the archdiocese said that because the victim had not come forward, the archdiocese could not report the allegations to authorities under church policy. Policies have since changed with reforms enacted in 2002.
Myers was not yet installed as archbishop when the allegations about Fugee were first reported to the archdioceses. But he returned Fugee to the ministry in 2009 after his probation was finished and after a review board examined his case and found that no sexual abuse occurred. A Vatican office confirmed the findings, which are confidential.
Victims’ advocates have said his decision to restore Fugee to the ministry enabled Fugee to participate with the youth ministry, even though he was not assigned to work with children.
Myers was bishop in Peoria from 1990 until he came to Newark in 2001. He is not directly mentioned by name in the lawsuit, but “the bishop” of Peoria is cited repeatedly in the allegations.
Had Myers and the diocese “acted properly” to investigate the woman’s claim, Maloney, who died in 2009, might have been stopped before he allegedly preyed upon the 8-year-old Andrew Ward, said Ward’s attorney, Jeff Anderson.
“We believe there is evidence that shows there was a look-the-other-way mentality by then-Bishop Myers and the diocese,” said Anderson, a Minnesota-based attorney who has sued the Catholic Church on behalf of sexual abuse victims hundreds of times. “Myers had the power to do something when the woman’s report came in, and he chose not to. The failure of the diocese and the bishop to report or investigate the claims and the decision to allow Maloney to continue his ministry led to my client being abused.”
Jim Goodness, the spokesman for Myers and the Archdiocese of Newark, said he could not comment on the matter. “Our policy is that we don’t comment on any pending litigation,” he said.
Patricia Gibson, the chancellor and attorney for the Peoria diocese, also declined to comment on the Ward lawsuit. “This is an ongoing case and our policy is not to comment on pending litigation,” she said.
Anderson says he traveled to Newark to take a deposition from Myers in 2010. But he has been ordered by the court not to discuss the statement or other details of the case that are not already in the public complaint.
The Diocese of Peoria asked the court to shield pretrial documents in the case including Myer’s deposition, Maloney’s diocesan file and an anticipated upcoming deposition of Peoria’s current bishop, Daniel R. Jenky.
The court granted the request, but allowed Anderson to go through the documents in the case to give him the opportunity to assess exactly which items he believes should be released.
“We’re getting ready to go back to the court soon” to get the documents unsealed. Anderson said. “Our practice is to always release all documents to the public because it serves the public interest to get the information out there.”
Ward was not available for comment, but his mother, Joanne, spoke with The Record on Saturday about his claim.
Joanne Ward said in 1995 or 1996, when her son was a second-grader at Epiphany School in Normal, Ill., Maloney picked the boy to help out in the church after Mass on Sunday and sometimes in the morning before school.
“I loved Monsignor Maloney and was proud Andrew was picked even though he wasn’t old enough to be an altar boy,’’ she said.
But, she said, the abuse happened on two occasions while her son was helping Maloney.
“Maloney molested Andrew once in the church sanctuary before school and once behind the altar after 10:30 Mass on a Sunday.”
She said that she and her husband, David, did not find out about the alleged abuse until 2007. Andrew Ward had been a troubled child and teen. He had run-ins with the police, was arrested several times, abused drugs and alcohol and dropped out of high school, she said. The family left Illinois and moved to Michigan.
Andrew Ward’s troubles continued. During a turbulent time in 2007, when he was 19, he and his mother got into a shouting match as she asked him why he acted the way he did, why he hated himself, she said.
“I finally yelled at him: ‘Who hurt you, Andrew?’Ÿ” She said that after an emotional and lengthy back and forth, he told her he had been molested by Maloney when he was in second grade.
“He said it was his fault,” Joanne Ward said. “He was 8 when it happened but he said it was his fault.”
She said she and her husband notified police in Illinois. There was an investigation, she said. But police found there wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges at the time.
Andrew Ward filed his civil suit soon after, a common sequence of events in the usually decades-old sexual abuse cases against the church.
As she waits for her son’s case to play out, Joanne Ward said she has watched from afar as the controversy around Myers and the Fugee case has unfolded in North Jersey. “My son was molested because Myers didn’t take any action when a woman reported Maloney molested her during her childhood. Now this thing in New Jersey is being questioned,” she said.
Fugee has now resigned from two jobs with the archdiocese and is no longer active as a priest. He wrote in his resignation letter that the archdiocese knew nothing about his activities with the youth group.