Lawyer for Embattled Priest Questions Whether He Was Supervised
By Jeff Green
May 29, 2013
The lawyer for Michael Fugee, a priest accused of violating a ban on ministering to children, said Tuesday that even though a high-ranking Newark Archdiocese official resigned last week over "failures" in supervising the cleric, the official had not been in charge of monitoring him.
Attorney Michael D'Alessio said an agreement that prohibited Fugee's involvement with children contained no provision for vicar general John E. Doran to supervise the priest. In fact, nothing in the agreement — signed by Fugee, the archdiocese and the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office — addressed the question of who would watch to be sure Fugee obeyed the agreement, the lawyer said.
Newark Archbishop John J. Myers has faced a torrent of criticism since the revelation that Fugee, despite the agreement, attended youth retreats throughout New Jersey. Fugee was convicted in 2003 of groping a teenage boy when he was an assistant pastor in Wyckoff, but the verdict was overturned because of a judicial error. He was arrested last week and charged with seven counts of violating a judicial order by hearing confessions from children.
Several prominent Democratic politicians and some Catholics have called for Myers' resignation. They say Myers should not have returned Fugee to the ministry in 2009.
On Tuesday a victims' advocacy group also questioned Myers' handling of a church newsletter written by a Nutley pastor earlier this month that said Fugee had been "exonerated" of groping the boy. Those charges were dismissed, but not until Fugee entered a special rehabilitation program, underwent sex-offender counseling and signed the agreement with prosecutors.
Myers responded to the Fugee controversy during the weekend, announcing in a letter read in all parishes in the four-county archdiocese that Doran, his top deputy, would resign and that the archbishop would bolster resources for sex-abuse awareness training and an archdiocese review board.
D'Alessio said that even though Doran signed Fugee's agreement with prosecutors, the vicar general did not check in on Fugee to see that he lived up to it.
"It's inaccurate to say Doran was appointed as a supervisor to Fugee," D'Alessio said. "If he was, he was doing it silently. We had no knowledge he was monitoring anybody. We had no knowledge that Fugee was to report to anybody."
Myers wrote in his announcement that an internal investigation, conducted by top criminal defense attorney Michael Critchley, revealed "operational failures." Myers' spokesman, Jim Goodness, has not explained the failures but said Tuesday that Doran was responsible for giving other priests, including Fugee, permission to travel outside the archdiocese.
Three charges Fugee faces relate to confessions of children he heard during youth retreats he attended with St. Mary's Parish in Colts Neck, outside the archdiocese.
Goodness declined to respond to D'Alessio's statement that the vicar general was not appointed to supervise Fugee's compliance with the agreement. The spokesman has maintained that the archdiocese did not know about Fugee's work with youth until reached by a reporter for The Star-Ledger late last month.
D'Alessio said Fugee heard confessions from children but has argued that the activity was not prohibited by the agreement because Fugee was always supervised — a defense initially mounted by the archdiocese. Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said other adults were present during the confessions but that confessions, even if they were supervised, were not allowed under the pact, which he characterized as a "very clear document."
Mark Crawford, the New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said Tuesday that Myers has not acted to stem the flow of inaccurate information about Fugee. Crawford pointed to a May 5 church newsletter in which Monsignor Paul Bochicchio, a defender and close friend of Fugee, wrote to parishioners of Holy Family Church in Nutley that Fugee had been cleared in the 2001 case.
Fugee attended youth retreats with the Holy Family Church but was not charged.
Fugee confessed to groping the Wyckoff boy but recanted during his 2003 trial, saying he was coerced by investigators. In the church bulletin, Bochicchio appeared to go further, suggesting Fugee was denied his Miranda rights when detectives questioned him.
"There are many elements of his 'confession' that reflected the conjecture and notes of the investigators who interrogated him without the benefit of legal counsel," Bochicchio wrote.
Fugee's confession was upheld on appeal, although the court suggested that if prosecutors were to retry the case, they should leave out a statement in which he questioned his sexual identity.
Bochicchio could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Goodness, Myers' spokesman, said Bochicchio's letter reflected the pastor's beliefs but not the archbishop's. He said that until a reporter mentioned it, he was not aware the church bulletin was still online. He declined to say whether the archdiocese had requested the newsletter's removal or would do so now.
Crawford said the newsletter should immediately be taken off Holy Family Church's website.
"It's truly incredible if they don't have a problem with that statement remaining in the public domain," he said. "It's inaccurate, it's wrong and clearly misleads the faithful."