N.J. Priest Arrested, Charged with Violating Ban on Ministering to Children
By Mark Mueller
May 20, 2013
|The Rev. Michael Fugee was arrested today and charged with violating the terms of his court order|
A Roman Catholic priest was criminally charged today with violating a court-sanctioned agreement that bars him from working with children, the latest development in a scandal that has led to calls for the resignation of Newark Archbishop John J. Myers.
The Rev. Michael Fugee, whose attendance at youth retreats and other events involving minors was disclosed in a series of articles in The Star-Ledger in recent weeks, was arrested by members of the special victims unit of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office at St. Antoninus Parish in Newark, a statement from the prosecutor’s office said.
The 52-year-old Fugee — who was granted a leave from ministry this month but remains a priest in the archdiocese — was charged with seven counts of contempt of a judicial order, a fourth-degree crime that carries a maximum prison term of 18 months.
The Bergen County investigators, who launched a probe after the newspaper alerted them to Fugee’s interactions with children, found the priest heard confessions from minors at youth retreats along Lake Hopatcong in April 2010 and at the Kateri Environmental Center in Marlboro in September 2010 and again in September 2012.
Fugee, who admitted in 2001 to fondling the genitals of a teenage boy while wrestling with him, also heard confessions from minors at a parishioner’s home in Bayville, at Our Lady of Visitation Parish in Paramus and at Sacred Heart Church in Rochelle Park on two occasions, the statement said.
Superior Court Judge Patrick Roma set bail at $25,000 after the arrest. Fugee remained at the Bergen County Jail last night, Richard Moriarty, a spokesman for the Bergen County Sheriff’s Department, said.
The prosecutor, John Molinelli, said the investigation was continuing and urged anyone with information to come forward.
|The Rev. Michael Fugee participates in a prayer circle with teens and adults during a pilgrimage to Canada in 2010. It was trips like these led to his being charged with violating a court order.|
Robert Hoatson, a former priest and the founder of the sex-abuse support group Road to Recovery, applauded the arrest but urged the prosecutor to continue looking into whether the archbishop and the archdiocese’s vicar general should face charges because of their supervisory roles.
The vicar general, Monsignor John Doran, signed onto the document spelling out Fugee’s lifetime ban on ministry to children. Hoatson said Myers has demonstrated that he is unwilling or unable to supervise problem priests.
"A whole new administration needs to take over in Newark to keep children safe," he said.
Jim Goodness, a spokesman for Myers, said in a brief statement last night that Fugee violated "certain internal protocols" of the archdiocese.
"We take these allegations seriously and will fully cooperate with law enforcement authorities in their investigation," Goodness said. "The archdiocese is committed to take every effort to safeguard children."
Fugee signed the agreement with the prosecutor’s office in July 2007 to avoid retrial on the groping charges. A jury convicted him in 2003 of aggravated criminal sexual contact, but an appellate panel overturned the verdict three years later, ruling the trial judge should not have allowed jurors to hear the part of Fugee’s confession in which he questioned his sexual identity.
The remainder of the confession, in which Fugee acknowledged he committed a "violation" by touching the boy and became sexually excited by it, was not called into question.
In its initial April 28 report, The Star-Ledger disclosed Fugee had attended the youth retreats in Marlboro and at the Claremont Retreat Center on the shore of Lake Hopatcong in Mount Arlington.
|Newark Archbishop John J. Meyers, seen here in March, has come under criticism for his handling of the Rev. Michael Fugee.|
The newspaper also reported Fugee attended an annual pilgrimage to a Canadian shrine with members of youth groups from two New Jersey churches, St. Mary’s Parish in Colts Neck and Holy Family Church in Nutley.
The pastor and two youth ministers at St. Mary’s have since resigned under pressure from Trenton Bishop David O’Connell. The parish is in the Diocese of Trenton. No action has been taken at Holy Family, which is in the Newark Archdiocese.
The father of Fugee’s accuser, a 13-year-old boy at the time of the alleged abuse, said last night that he was grateful the prosecutor’s office pursued The Star-Ledger’s findings.
"I’m almost dumbstruck at this stage," said the man, whose name has been withheld to protect the identify of his son, now 27. "The way the church was handling it, I wasn’t sure anything was going to happen."
Myers has come under repeated criticism for his handling of Fugee. In 2009, when the priest was returned to ministry, the archbishop named him a chaplain at a Newark hospital without informing hospital officials about his background.
When those officials learned of the priest’s history, they demanded his removal.
Myers later named Fugee co-director of the Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests, drawing anger from advocates for victims of sexual abuse.
After the latest disclosures, several New Jersey politicians, among them the state’s top Democrat, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, have demanded that Myers step down.
The archbishop has not made any public statements on the issue.
His spokesman, Goodness, initially defended Fugee’s interactions with children, saying they were within the scope of the agreement because he was supervised at the time. Days later, Goodness reversed course, saying that while Fugee clearly violated the agreement, he did so without the knowledge or permission of officials in the archdiocese.
It remains to be seen whether Molinelli, the prosecutor, will pursue civil or criminal charges against anyone in the archdiocese.
But as Fugee’s arrest demonstrates, law enforcement officials are becoming less hesitant to arrest and prosecute members of the clergy, said Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI agent who was the first director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
"You’re starting to see prosecutors and other law enforcement personnel really take these cases seriously, whereas in years past, sometimes clergy were given the benefit of the doubt," McChesney said. "There was often a respect and regard for men of the cloth, if you will, that caused law enforcement to go easy on alleged perpetrators. That tide has changed."
In Fugee’s case, she said, the prosecutor had to take some action.
"They expected the agreement to be followed," McChesney said. "If they don’t take this step, then nothing they do is meaningful."