Accused Priest Fugee Admits to Contempt, Agrees to Leave Priesthood
November 9, 2013
[Click here to read the court order]
|Former Wyckoff priest Michael Fugee|
In a sweeping agreement that legal experts said is unprecedented in its scope, the Bergen County prosecutor announced Friday that he has taken over the job of monitoring a former Wyckoff associate pastor who confessed to fondling a 13-year-old boy because he does not trust church officials to watch him.
The prosecutor, John L. Molinelli, said law enforcement authorities “no longer have confidence” in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark to abide by a 2007 agreement that barred the Rev. Michael Fugee from working with children. He also pointed to recent statements by Archbishop John J. Myers, who said the church is not equipped to monitor priests and never should have signed the agreement.
Related: 2013 probe renewed investigation of Rev. Michael Fugee
In exchange for prosecutors dropping a criminal charge of violating a court order, Fugee admitted to violating the agreement by going on youth retreats and hearing children’s confessions, according to a consent order filed on Nov. 1 in Superior Court in Hackensack.
He also agreed to be defrocked, a process known as laicization that removes him from the supervision of church officials and permanently strips him of priestly authority. And he acknowledged that he was telling the truth when he confessed to fondling a 13-year-old parishioner of the Church of St. Elizabeth of Hungary years ago. He previously alleged that his confession was coerced.
The agreement calls for Fugee, who is 52, to have no unsupervised contact with children for the rest of his life, and to tell any employer about the consent order — similar to requirements imposed on convicted sex offenders. Fugee’s 2003 conviction on a charge of aggravated criminal sexual contact was overturned by an appellate panel because of an error made in instructions given to the jury. He never was retried.
Molinelli said Friday that he was able to get more concessions from Fugee than had he prosecuted him for violating a judicial order, a fourth-degree crime.
“Law enforcement does not have the right to ask for a priest to be laicized,” he said. Earlier, he said in a statement that the archdiocese never would have required Fugee to be laicized.
A spokesman for the archdiocese, James Goodness, rebutted that allegation in a statement issued Friday, saying church officials were “stunned” by the prosecutor’s assertion.
He said Myers began the process of laicizing Fugee years ago but changed his mind after the priest was allowed to enter a probationary program to have the charges against him dismissed. The memorandum of agreement with law enforcement, he said, allowed Fugee to return to ministry “with certain restrictions.”
He also denied that the archdiocese violated the 2007 agreement, saying church officials never authorized Fugee to work with children.
Myers, in an interview on WCBS-TV in New York in October, said that he had been “much stricter” than the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.
“I did not return him to ministry,” Myers said in the interview. “It was they who asked me to consider that.”
Molinelli said in an interview Friday that he was upset by Myers’ comments, which he said imply that the Prosecutor’s Office prevented the church from defrocking Fugee.
“I am troubled by the archbishop’s statement that we asked to return this priest to ministry,” Molinelli said in a telephone interview. “He knows better.”
Goodness said the prosecutor’s criticism of church officials was “unfairly excessive.” He said the archdiocese has acknowledged making mistakes overseeing Fugee but that it is “hypocritical to single out the archdiocese as being solely responsible.”
“Responsibility lies with numerous parties, including the BCPO [Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office],” Goodness said. “It was not the archdiocese that sought to have criminal charges against Fugee dismissed; it was the BCPO.”
Myers has been widely criticized for the apparent failure to adequately monitor Fugee. In May, he announced that the vicar general of the archdiocese, Monsignor John E. Doran, who signed the 2007 agreement with law enforcement, was stepping down “as a result of operational failures” related to monitoring the priest.
On Tuesday, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda was installed as a coadjutor, or assistant, to Myers after being appointed by Pope Francis to that position in September. Myers, who is 72, has said he asked for an assistant as he approached the mandatory retirement age of 75. But he has declined to be more specific.
“That’s not anyone’s business,” he said on Tuesday.
Authorities have said Fugee attended youth retreats and heard confessions from children on at least seven occasions between April 2010 and December of last year, including twice at Sacred Heart Parish in Rochelle Park, where church authorities had allowed him to live in the rectory. He also heard confessions from minors at Our Lady of Visitation Church in Paramus.
Fugee left Sacred Heart in February after The Record inquired about him living there. It is not clear where he is now living.
Goodness, the archdiocese spokesman, said Fugee will not receive his pension once he is laicized.
Fugee’s attorney, John Whipple, said the agreement ends years of legal embroilment and will allow his client “to proceed with his life.”
David Clohessy, the national director of the Survivor Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the agreement appears to be more extensive than any he has ever seen. But he also said he was concerned about how it would be enforced.
“I’m not confident he’ll abide by this agreement,” he said of Fugee.
Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota attorney who specializes in clergy-abuse cases, called the agreement “unique” and said there are no precedents for it. Anderson represented a family that received a $1.35 million settlement to resolve a lawsuit alleging that Myers failed to keep an alleged pedophile priest away from children when he was a bishop in Illinois.
“They are sending a message that they can’t trust the bishop to do it,” Anderson said of the Prosecutor’s Office. “This is putting substance over form.”
The agreement requires Fugee to maintain contact with the Prosecutor’s Office and bars him from working with children. He is not allowed to have contact with children on the Internet. He is not allowed to take a clerical position in any church or to represent himself as “a current or former ‘spiritual advisor,’ ‘counselor,’ ‘therapist’ or ‘Man of God.’
Staff Writer Markos Kibret contributed to this article. Email: email@example.com