Bergen Prosecutor Rips Newark Archbishop, Says Charged Clergyman Will Leave Priesthood
By Mark Mueller
November 8, 2013
|The Rev. Michael Fugee, seen here during a court appearance in May, has agreed to his permanent removal from the priesthood.|
A Roman Catholic priest who was criminally charged with violating a court order to stay away from children earlier this year has agreed to his permanent removal from the priesthood and to never work in a position that places him in contact with minors.
The agreement between the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office and the Rev. Michael Fugee resolves the criminal case against him without jail time. Fugee had been facing up to 18 months in jail for multiple counts of violating a judicial order.
In its announcement, the prosecutor’s office strongly criticized the Archdiocese of Newark, which had been required to supervise Fugee under a 2007 memorandum of understanding with the law enforcement agency. The memorandum was one condition of a deal that spared Fugee from retrial on charges of molesting a teenage boy.
“It has appeared, based on many public comments by Archbishop (John J.) Myers, that the Church had no intention of monitoring Fugee any further and ... it has not appeared that the Archdiocese made any significant effort to adhere to the terms of the MOU such that, at this juncture, we no longer have confidence in its ability as a signatory to honor the clear intent of the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding,” Prosecutor John Mollinelli said in a statement.
The Star-Ledger revealed in April that Fugee was attending youth retreats and hearing confessions from minors in violation of the agreement. The newspaper also found the archdiocese did little or nothing to monitor him. The stories sparked the prosecutor's office investigation.
More from the prosecutor's statement:
"So that the public is aware, this is a requirement that could never have been achieved even if Michael Fugee was convicted of 4th degree criminal contempt, as it is not believed that the American Justice System has such authority as a condition of probation or upon conviction.
"This is a requirement that will eliminate the threat of Michael Fugee, ever again, obtaining the trust of people through his clerical position nor using his ordained position as a Priest to exert improper contact with children.
"This is a requirement that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark (RCAN), did not nor would ever obtain. The agreement that has been reached forever bars Michael Fugee from holding himself out as a current or former priest or spiritual advisor. Most importantly, he is prohibited from working with children in any capacity."
The agreement was signed Nov. 1 but was not released until this afternoon.
In addition to admitting he violated the 2007 memorandum, Fugee also acknowledged for the first time that his 2001 confession was “freely and truthfully given.”
Fugee and his defenders in the church, particularly Myers, have repeatedly suggested the confession was coerced by police.
In an interview this afternoon, Molinelli called the archbishop’s statements “very troubling,” noting the confession was determined to be valid and unforced by both a judge and the jury that convicted Fugee. The verdict was later overturned on a technicality.
“We need to be able to rely on our archdiocese to acknowledge that the judicial process should be respected, and if a judge finds a confession is not the subject of coercion, then deference should be given to the court’s ruling," Molinelli said.
While the agreement spares Fugee jail time, Molinelli said it does more in terms of restrictions and supervision than prosecutors could hope to gain through a criminal conviction.
It essentially transfers supervision of Fugee from the archdiocese to the prosecutor’s office and bars him from any unsupervised contact with minors. He may not become a teacher, coach or counselor or even describe himself as a “man of God.”
He must provide the prosecutor’s office with the names and phone numbers of any employers, and he is required to show those employers a copy of the consent order. He’s also barred from seeking to become a clergy member in any faith and from holding a supervisory role in a church or other religious institution as a lay person.
The full list of restrictions in the consent order can be found here.
In a lengthy response, the archdiocese's spokesman, Jim Goodness, called Molinelli's criticism "unfairly excessive."
"The Archdiocese has publicly acknowledged operational failures in the Fugee matter. However, it is hypocritical to single out the Archdiocese as being solely responsible. Responsibility lies with numerous parties, including the BCPO," Goodness said. "It was not the archdiocese that sought to have the criminal charges against Fugee dismissed; it was the BCPO."
Goodness added: "Archbishop Myers has stated categorically that the primary responsibilities of the Archdiocese are to protect children and young people, and to promote the healing of, and provide compassion to, victims of abuse."
Mark Crawford, New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an advocacy and support group, said he was disappointed the prosecutor’s office didn’t take action against the archdiocese.
“I feel a tremendous letdown,” Crawford said. “They had an opportunity to send a message, and the prosecutor failed to do that. Once again, there are no serious consequences for those who put children in harm’s way.”