Former Wyckoff Priest Arrested, Charged with Violating Bergen County Order Barring Work with Children
By Abbott Koloff
May 20, 2013
|The Rev. Michael Fugee|
A former Wyckoff associate pastor who was allowed to continue working as a priest despite confessing to groping a 13-year-old boy was arrested Monday and charged with violating an agreement with law enforcement officials that barred him from working with children.
The Rev. Michael Fugee was arrested at St. Antoninus Parish in Newark, where he had been living, and was charged with seven counts of violating a judicial order, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said in a statement.
Fugee, 52, a former associate pastor at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Wyckoff, allegedly 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 confession from minors at Our Lady of Visitation Church in Paramus, Molinelli said. Fugee left Sacred Heart in February after The Record inquired about him living there.
Law enforcement officials announced that they were investigating whether Fugee violated the terms of a memorandum of understanding after allegations surfaced last month that he attended youth group excursions sponsored by a Monmouth County church, St. Mary’s in Colts Neck. Fugee resigned from the ministry on May 2.
There is no evidence that archdiocese officials knew of his participation in those outings.
Newark Archbishop John J. Myers has been under fire for the way he handled Fugee’s case, with several prominent politicians asking for his resignation. Fugee initially confessed to groping a boy but later recanted. His conviction on a charge of criminal sexual contact with a minor was overturned on a technicality by an appellate panel in 2007.
Fugee entered the state's Pretrial Intervention program in 2007 and signed a memorandum of understanding with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office that barred him from unsupervised contact with minors. He also served a probationary sentence.
Two years later, Fugee attempted to have his criminal record expunged, but a judge declined the request, citing the need to protect children from sexual abuse.
Church officials granted him permission to return to ministry, gave him promotions and eventually allowed him to live in the Rochelle Park rectory.
Myers’ spokesman, James Goodness, said in a statement Monday night that church officials are cooperating with law enforcement officials and that Fugee had resigned after it was discovered that he had “violated certain internal protocols of the Archdiocese.”
“The Archdiocese is committed to taking every effort to safeguard children,” Goodness said in the statement. Earlier, he said in a phone interview that church officials were unaware of the specific allegations of Fugee hearing confession from minors before Molinelli announced them.
Fugee was being held Monday night at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack with bail set at $25,000, according to court records.
Fugee’s attorney, Michael D’Alessio, said he could not comment about the charges because he did not have enough information about them. He said the priest was arrested in his residence at St. Antoninus Parish in Newark on Monday afternoon and was making arrangements for bail.
He is due to make a first appearance in Superior Court in Hackensack Tuesday morning.
Fugee heard confessions from children in February and again in March of last year at Sacred Heart Church in Rochelle Park, Molinelli said. He also heard confessions from minors at Our Lady of Visitation Church in Paramus in December, Molinelli said. He allegedly heard hearing confession from children four other times, including at a home in Bayville, the Claremont Retreat Center in Mount Arlington, and twice at the Kateri Environmental Center in Wickatunk.
Margaret Franklin, a parishioner at St. Mary’s in Colts Neck, said she and her two daughters attended a 2010 excursion to the Claremont Retreat Center, located on Lake Hopatcong in Mount Arlington. She said she is certain Fugee heard confessions from minors during the retreat, but added that she and other chaperones had not heard the full story of the priest’s criminal history and did not know about his agreement with prosecutors.
“I’m sure that the court system is doing what it needs to do,” she said Monday.
The St. Mary’s Pastor, the Rev. Thomas Triggs, and two parish youth ministers who invited Fugee, resigned from their positions earlier this month.
David Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said Archbishop Myers had contributed to the breaking of a legal agreement with law enforcement by allowing Fugee to continue in ministry and live in a Rochelle Park rectory.
“The arrest of Fugee is a no-brainer,” Clohessy said Monday night. “Meyers should be next.”
State Sen. Barbara Buono, a Democrat who is challenging Governor Christie, was among those who called for Myers resignation in recent weeks. In a statement issued Monday night, she said Fugee’s arrest reaffirmed that position.
“Tonight’s arrest only further underscores how the Governor was wrong not to demand swift action during this crisis,” she said. “I stand by my initial calls for Archbishop Myers’ resignation and ask the Governor to do the same.”
A spokesman for Christie, Michael Drewniak, did not return a phone message seeking comment.