Priest Charged with Violating Ban on Ministry to Children Freed on Bail
By Mark Mueller
May 23, 2013
|The Rev. Michael Fugee listens in court Tuesday as a prosecutor reads the charges against him.|
The Roman Catholic priest charged with violating a ban on ministry to children was released from jail late Tuesday, less than 12 hours after making his first appearance in a Bergen County courtroom.
The Rev. Michael Fugee, 52, walked out of the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack sometime after 7 p.m. A spokesman for the county sheriff’s department, which oversees the jail, declined to say who posted Fugee’s bail, which had been set at $25,000 with a 10 percent cash option.
The Archdiocese of Newark, to which Fugee is assigned, did not secure the priest’s release, said Jim Goodness, a spokesman for Archbishop John J. Myers. Goodness would not say whether Fugee was returned to a parish or other housing owned by the archdiocese.
Fugee was required to surrender his passport as a condition of the release.
Investigators with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office arrested Fugee at a parish in Newark Monday night, charging him with seven counts of contempt of a judicial order for interacting with children despite the ban.
The restriction grew out of a 2007 agreement Fugee signed with the prosecutor’s office to avoid retrial on charges that he groped a 13-year-old boy.
|The Rev. Michael Fugee participates in a prayer circle with teens and adults during a pilgrimage to Canada in 2010.|
Following a Star-Ledger report on the priest’s continued contact with children and teens, authorities found he gave confessions to minors at youth retreats and a private home outside the archdiocese and at two parishes inside the archdiocese, which includes Bergen, Hudson, Union and Essex counties.
Fugee’s lawyer, Michael D’Alessio, did not return calls seeking comment.
D’Alessio, who represented Fugee when he signed the agreement, told the Record newspaper the priest did not violate the terms because Fugee was under the supervision of other adults when he was with children, the same defense initially mounted by the archdiocese.
Goodness, Myers’ spokesman, later reversed that position, saying that while Fugee did violate the agreement, he did so without the archbishop’s knowledge.
"Father Fugee is not guilty of this offense," D’Alessio told the Record.
The lawyer added that prosecutors, to win a conviction, would have to prove in court the priest "knowingly and purposefully" flouted the agreement.
"If there are other adults in the room, other adults in the vicinity, he was never in a position where he could not be observed," D’Alessio said. "That’s the key to this, and that’s the key to what he thought."