Bergen County Prosecutor Probing Whether Former Wyckoff Priest Violated Agreement in Molestation Case

By Jeff Green
The Record
April 30, 2013

The language of the agreement with prosecutors is clear: Rev. Michael Fugee, a Catholic priest who served probation on allegations he groped a boy at his Wyckoff home in 2001, was not to be in the presence of children unsupervised, and he was never to supervise or minister to children.

But weekend press revelations that, several years ago, Fugee attended weekend retreats with a Monmouth County youth ministry to hear one-on-one confessions by minors, in spite of the agreement, has prompted an investigation by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office and moved the bishop of Trenton to bar the priest from any further ministry with the Monmouth County parish.

On Monday, meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark argued that neither Fugee nor the archdiocese did anything wrong, that Fugee was always supervised while working with the youth ministry, and that the agreement, signed by the prosecutor and the archdiocese’s vicar general to avoid a trial for Fugee, is being correctly interpreted.

The Bergen County prosecutor, John Molinelli, pointedly disagreed Monday with that interpretation of the agreement — which he called “a very clear document” — but would say little more except that his office is conducting an open-ended investigation.

Fugee had initially been charged with fondling the genitals of a 13-year-old boy while he was assigned at the Church of St. Elizabeth in Wyckoff. After a trial in 2003 in which he was convicted and then a successful appeal, the Prosecutor’s Office crafted the agreement to avoid a retrial. The agreement forbids Fugee from having unsupervised contact with children, ministering to children or working in any position in which children are involved. It also instructs Fugee to notify prosecutors of any changes in locations of his assignment.

Fugee could face civil penalties or criminal charges if he has found to have violated the agreement, according to the pact.

An archdiocese spokesman said youth ministry staff members with knowledge of the agreement and Fugee’s past were always in the area of confessionals, and there was “very little if any opportunity” for inappropriate conduct on his part.

“We believe we’re in compliance [with the agreement],” said Jim Goodness, spokesman for Newark Archbishop John J. Myers.

In a statement Monday, the Diocese of Trenton, whose territory includes Monmouth County, said that upon learning of Fugee’s involvement with St. Mary’s in Colts Neck, Bishop David M. O’Connell immediately contacted the parish’s pastor and ordered that Fugee “may not exercise ministry there, including any ministry involving youth.”

Fugee, 52, attended two weekend youth retreats in Marlboro and in Mount Arlington in Morris County a few years ago. He also traveled with the St. Mary’s youth group on a pilgrimage to Canada, an activity he has been involved with for several decades, Goodness said.

The St. Mary’s youth minister, Amy Lenehan, asked Fugee to attend the retreats because the priests who were scheduled had become unavailable, Goodness said. Fugee is a longtime friend of Lenehan and her husband.

“What he did in those instances was respond to a favor from the youth minister because they needed somebody in the last minute to do confessions,” Goodness said.

Fugee heard confessions and attended Mass at the retreats and afterward went home, Goodness said.

He said the archdiocese was not informed of Fugee’s involvement with the youth ministry.

Fugee could not be reached for comment Monday. He holds two positions within the Archdiocese of Newark, as director for the Office of the Propagation of the Faith and co-director of the Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests.

St. Mary’s referred all questions to the Diocese of Trenton. The diocese said Fugee had not been given permission to work at the church, nor had he filed a letter with the archdiocesan chancery that is required of all priests outside of the diocese.

It was unknown whether prosecutors had been made aware at the time of Fugee’s association with St. Mary’s, which Goodness said was unofficial because he is not assigned there and is not assigned to work with youth.

In the criminal proceedings against him, Fugee was charged with criminal sexual contact and child endangerment for allegedly groping a 13-year-old boy. He initially confessed but then recanted at trial, saying he was playfully wrestling with the teen. A jury found him guilty of sexual contact and acquitted him of endangerment, but the conviction was overturned by an appellate panel of judges who found that the trial judge had not given proper instructions to the jury.

Fugee entered the Pretrial Intervention Program, a special probation program for first-time offenders, in 2007. The terms of the program required him to serve a two-year probationary term, undergo sex-offender-specific counseling and have no contact with the victim.

He also signed the memorandum of understanding with the prosecutor's office that he must abide by for as long as he remains a priest.









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