Bishop Cleared Priest Convicted in Wyckoff Child Abuse Case after Panel Declared No Sexual Abuse Occurred

By Jeff Green
The Record
April 30, 2013

The Rev. Michael Fugee, right, in this file photo from 2001.

After the Rev. Michael Fugee finished serving probation on allegations that he groped a teenage boy on several occasions at his Wyckoff home more than a decade ago, a review board of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese in Newark examined his case.

Despite an initial — later recanted — confession by Fugee and trial testimony from the boy, the review board found that no sexual abuse occurred. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome confirmed those findings.

And so, in late 2009, based on that conclusion, Archbishop John J. Myers returned Fugee to the ministry.

On Tuesday, victims’ advocates pointed to that action as the one that enabled Fugee to become involved in a new controversy: He attended several youth group retreats with a Monmouth County parish — even though he had signed an agreement with prosecutors that explicitly forbade his involvement with youth for as long he continued being a priest.

In light of weekend press revelations of the trips several years ago, in which Fugee heard confessions by minors, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation to determine if he violated the agreement. Prosecutors on Tuesday declined to say how long they thought the probe would take.

Meanwhile, critics expressed outrage at the church review process of Fugee’s case and called for the archbishop’s resignation for relying on it.

“For a review board to turn around and say you didn’t do anything, to supersede police authority, is very troubling,” said Mark Crawford, the New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “To me it’s arrogant.”

In a February letter to priests, following Fugee’s promotion within the archdiocese, Myers defended his decision to allow him to return to the ministry, saying he was guided by “Father Fugee’s acquittal and dismissal of charges and the Review Board’s conclusion that no sexual abuse occurred.”

A Newark Archdiocese spokesman said the findings of the review board are confidential but said they considered all of the court records from Fugee’s case.

In the criminal proceedings against him, Fugee was accused of grabbing a 13-year-old boy’s crotch while play wrestling with him on several occasions in his family’s living room during 1999 and 2000. Fugee initially confessed but then recanted at trial, saying he felt coerced by police investigators.

The male involved, who declined to comment on the new investigation when reached by prosecutors Tuesday, had testified at trial in 2003 that Fugee “used” him and violated his trust. A jury found Fugee 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 should not have allowed the jury to hear a part of his confession in which he questioned his sexual identity.

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 a memorandum of understanding with prosecutors, which ordered him not to be unsupervised with children, minister to children or hold church positions involving children.

Attempts to reach Fugee through the archdiocese were unsuccessful Tuesday. Jim Goodness, the archdiocese spokesman, has confirmed that Fugee attended weekend retreats with the St. Mary’s of Colts Neck youth ministry over the past few years. He insisted Fugee’s involvement did not violate the agreement with prosecutors, because youth ministry staff were in supervision, but noted that Fugee’s association was unofficial and unknown by archdiocesan officers until press inquiries about the trips.

“Did he have permission? No, he did not,” Goodness said.

Crawford, the victim’s advocate, said the archbishop should not have returned Fugee to the ministry in the first place, calling the decision “reckless and dangerous.”

“When is enough going to be enough — when he finally harms another child?” Crawford asked. “It wouldn’t be accepted in any other institution; why does it continue to go on in the institution that should be a moral authority?”

Goodness stressed that Fugee was never assigned to work with youth. 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.

Crawford also raised concerns about the youth ministers at St. Mary’s who called on Fugee to attend the retreats.

“It calls into question their reasoning if they knew this and kept it from the people they were working with,” he said. “Should they be youth ministers or counselors? I certainly wouldn’t trust them with my children. It wouldn’t happen.”









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