Serrano: Church Protected Abuser

By Mark V. Serrano
Asbury Park Press
May 10, 2013

An old proverb says that while success has many fathers, failure is an orphan. This comes to mind when considering the now infamous case of the Rev. Michael Fugee.

Fugee is the admitted sex offender whom Newark Archbishop John J. Myers allowed to serve in ministry around children in direct defiance of a 2007 memorandum of understanding between the Bergen County prosecutor and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark.

So let’s consider the many fathers of this failure, lest it be orphaned, and then let’s address the steps necessary to avoid such a preventable crisis again.

For starters, it should be no surprise that Fugee exploited the opportunity he saw in the deal with the prosecutor. He confessed to being “sexually excited” when he “groped” the genitals of a teenage boy twice, for which he was found guilty before the ruling was vacated on a technicality.

You have to wonder how many sex offenders get to sign a memo with a prosecutor promising they will stay away from kids. We know Fugee can’t control himself, so someone in a position of authority — notably Archbishop Myers — had to stop him and did not.

Myers, of course, is the primary father of this failure. As a result of his malfeasance, the growing chorus of state leaders calling for his resignation is absolutely warranted. Furthermore, since the Catholic Church child-protection policy remarkably does not penalize bishops for their inaction or complicity for harboring sex-offending priests, we can only hope that Myers will not be treated as deferentially by the prosecutor for violating the agreement restricting Father Fugee.

Consider as well Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli. He cut a deal with Fugee and Myers instead of prosecuting Fugee again. Let’s not confuse Molinelli with the real bad guys in this case, but he called this one terribly wrong. Molinelli should explain his legal reasoning for reaching this agreement in the first place, and then turn the case over to a grand jury immediately.

Preventing such crises is equally as important as assigning the ownership of this failure, and is achievable through a few crucial steps.

First, the Catholic Church must establish rules that specifically define penalties, including excommunication, for bishops who protect sex offenders in their dioceses — just as Myers clearly did.

Also, state legislation proposed by Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, that calls for expanding the statute of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse, both criminal and civil, should be passed. Opening the doors of justice to victims will better expose dangerous predators hidden by institutions such as schools and churches.

Finally, there is another miscarriage of justice that took place at the state level that also must be rectified in light of the crisis surrounding the Fugee-Myers agreement.

In 2002, while fearless prosecutors had begun convening grand juries to investigate a legacy of criminal concealment by Catholic bishops in Boston, Long Island, Philadelphia and elsewhere, New Jersey leaders copped out and reached a statewide memorandum of understanding with Catholic bishops.

This sweetheart deal called for bishops to hand over files of accused predator priests (kept secret from victims), contact law enforcement about accusations made against clergy and assign diocesan liaisons to coordinate with local law enforcement. The bishops agreed to these and other minimalist measures in an apparent deal, negotiated with then-Attorney General David Samson, to bypass a grand jury’s investigation.

In reaction, advocates for clergy abuse victims proclaimed that the state was making a grave error in trusting church leaders to hold sex-offending priests accountable. The endless revelations about sex crime cover-ups by bishops called for the commencement of investigations by state law enforcement then, not the cessation of investigations. The Fugee-Myers case proves this to be true by demonstrating that such deals place unwarranted trust in bishops and keep sex offenders in the midst of children.

It is now imperative that Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa and Gov. Chris Christie demonstrate leadership to prevent known predators such as Fugee from gaining access to children by terminating the 2002 memorandum of understanding, and then convening the long-overdue state grand jury to investigate a generation of cover-ups by Catholic bishops in New Jersey.

Once the facts have been fully revealed and proper justice is delivered to Fugee and Myers, these common-sense steps of prevention should then be applied. It is critical that we not allow this failure to be orphaned by any one of its fathers, and not miss the opportunity to prevent a similar crisis in the future.


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