Bishops beyond Shame

By Mark Silk
The Spiritual Politics
November 11, 2013

Yo, Catholic bishops meeting today in Baltimore!

As you may not have heard, last Friday the Bergen County (N.J.) prosecutor announced a pretty amazing agreement with a priest charged with violating the terms of the deal by which he avoided being retried for sex abuse. The priest, Michael Fugee, pledged to seek to be laicized by Rome. The amazing thing was that his boss, Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, was cut out of the arrangement.

How come? Prosecutor John L. Molinelli put it thusly:

By way of this agreement, the State of New Jersey need no longer rely upon cooperation by RCAN [the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark] in supervising Michael Fugee. It has appeared, based on many public comments by Archbishop Myers, that the Church had no intention of monitoring Fugee any further and, based upon this office’s review of the Archdiocese compliance with the terms of the original MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] dated July 18, 2007 wherein the Church committed to monitor Fugee, it does not appear that the Archdiocese made and significant effort to adhere to the terms of the MOU such that, at this juncture, we no longer have confidence in its ability as a signatory to honor the clear intent of the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding, which had placed direct oversight responsibility upon the RCAN.
I recognize that your excellencies are unaccustomed to being called out by officials of the criminal justice system, especially when they have names like Molinelli, and that you may find the language here a bit harsh. Indeed, you’ll probably not be surprised to learn that the Archdiocese of Newark took umbrage at the prosecutor’s remarks, issuing a defense of its conduct in re: Fugee via a statement from Vice Chancellor James Goodness.

Goodness knows the problem stems entirely from a failure of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office (BCPO) to communicate. “Before agreeing to participate in the MOU and before allowing Fugee to return to a restricted ministry, the Archbishop requested that the BCPO clarify some of the MOU’s language dealing with the issue of supervision,” he stated. “The BCPO never provided that clarification.” If that were the case, you might ask, then why the heck did Myers, who’s a canon lawyer of some repute, permit his vicar general to sign the thing? Beats me.

Now, bishops, since most of you are also canon lawyers, what do you make of this key provision of the MOU?
It is agreed that the Archdiocese shall not assign or otherwise place Michael Fugee in any position within the Archdiocese that allows him to have any unsupervised contact with or to supervise or minister to any child/minor under the age of 18 or to work in any position in which children are involved. This includes, but is not limited to, presiding over a parish, involvement with a youth group, religious education/parochial school, CCD, confessions of children, youth choir, youth retreats and day care.
For my part, and I think you’ll agree, this means that Fugee was not to be allowed 1) any contact with minors that was unsupervised; and 2) any work with minors whatsoever. Yet the Archdiocese made Fugee a hospital chaplain without so much as informing the hospital administration of his past. And when the Star Ledger‘s Mark Mueller reported last Spring that Fugee had been going on youth retreats and hearing confessions of children in parishes, Goodness “denied the agreement had been breached, saying the archdiocese has interpreted the document to mean Fugee could work with minors as long as he is under the supervision of priests or lay ministers who have knowledge of his past and of the conditions in the agreement.”

If I were in Baltimore today, I’d be kind of embarrassed to be seen with Myers. Not as embarrassed, to be sure, as being seen with Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, who last year was convicted of the crime of failing to tell Missouri authorities about a priest suspected of abusing toddlers. Thank God good old Bernie Hebda was just made coadjutor archbishop of Newark, which renders Myers inconsequential, although he’s likely to be hanging around the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart for another few years.

But then there’s Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis, accused by his former canon lawyer of a pattern of abuse cover-ups. Nienstedt’s got half the Twin Cities, including big donors and parish priests, calling for him to step down. I’d stay away from him too.

I suppose you all can console yourselves with the reflection that most of you have most of the time cleaved to the terms of the hallowed Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. So it really doesn’t matter if every now and then one of you fails to do the right thing. I mean, what difference does it make if a Myers or a Finn or a Nienstedt breaks the rules, since he’s the exception that proves them? As Bill Donohue likes to say, the abuse scandal is so over.

And to paraphrase Pope Francis, who are you to judge?


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