No Jailing for Priest in Fondling of Boy

By Raghuram Vadarev [New Jersey]
September 6, 2003

A Wyckoff priest convicted this year of groping a teenage boy will not spend any time in jail.

Instead, Superior Court Judge Charles J. Walsh sentenced the Rev. Michael Fugee on Friday to community supervision, or parole, for the rest of his life and required him to register as a sex offender wherever he lives.

Fugee's actions represent "a serious breach of trust" in the priesthood, Walsh said, as Fugee's supporters from St. Elizabeth R.C. Church looked on.

Across the courtroom sat an equal number of people supporting the 13-year-old victim. After the hearing, they said they were satisfied.

Fugee's attorney, Brian Neary, said his client maintains his innocence and would appeal.

Fugee, 43, who has been on administrative leave from the church since his arrest in March 2001, could have been sentenced to serve a year in prison.

During the hearing, Neary argued that Fugee's life would be in danger if he were sent to prison, referring to last month's prison killing of defrocked priest John Geoghan in Massachusetts.

Bergen County Assistant Prosecutor Demetra Maurice, who had wanted Fugee to serve a year in jail, objected to Neary's argument.

"He should not be treated different than other sex offenders," she said. "He should not be afforded special treatment ... He needs to be made an example of. He needs to sit in a cell to think about the pain he inflicted."

Walsh said he agreed that Fugee faced a "significant and greater jeopardy than the larger prison population," but he did not base his sentencing decision on that belief.

Afterward, Maurice said, "The Department of Corrections is prepared to handle and keep safe its inmates regardless of the nature of their crime."

Fugee had testified during the trial that he was simply wrestling in a playful manner with the boy. But the jury of five men and seven women gave more weight to a statement Fugee gave to police two years ago in which he said he grabbed the boy's crotch to satisfy an urge.

The four-day trial was packed with emotional testimony. The boy said he felt "used" by the priest and feared coming forward with the charges. Several parishioners testified that they loved Fugee and did not believe the charges, despite the statement he gave to police.

Fugee told jurors he admitted the crime at Wyckoff police headquarters two years ago because he was intimidated by investigators.

"I lied in this instance to say what was expected of me, so then I could go home," he testified.

But the police interview proved too incriminating for the defense to overcome. Fugee said during the interview that he was struggling with his sexual identity and "was infatuated with crotches," Detective John Haviland of the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office testified.

During the trial, the detective read the jury a transcript of the interview, in which Fugee said his actions were intentional, that he was responding to an urge, and that he knew it was wrong.

The jury convicted him of aggravated criminal sexual contact, a third-degree crime. Because he is a first-time offender, Fugee was expected to receive a more lenient sentence, possibly probation.

Walsh on Friday also sentenced Fugee to perform 500 hours of community service, to undergo psychological counseling, to serve five years of probation, and to submit a DNA sample.

Fugee's actions represented a "serious breach of trust" in the priesthood, Walsh said, adding that the full impact of his actions on the community and the victim and his family would not be known for years.



Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.