Six years ago, to avoid retrial on charges that he groped a teenage boy, the Rev. Michael Fugee entered a rehabilitation program, underwent counseling for sex offenders and signed a binding agreement that would dictate the remainder of his life as a Roman Catholic priest.
Fugee would not work in any position involving children, the agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office states. He would have no affiliation with youth groups. He would not attend youth retreats. He would not hear the confessions of minors.
But Fugee has openly done all of those things for the past several years through an unofficial association with a Monmouth County church, St. Mary’s Parish in Colts Neck, The Star-Ledger found.
He has attended weekend youth retreats in Marlboro and on the shores of Lake Hopatcong in Mount Arlington, parishioners say. Fugee also has traveled with members of the St. Mary’s youth group on an annual pilgrimage to Canada. At all three locations, he has heard confessions from minors behind closed doors.
What’s more, he has done so with the approval of New Jersey’s highest-ranking Catholic official, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers.
Advocates for victims of sexual abuse uniformly denounced Fugee and Myers, calling the priest’s involvement with children a blatant violation of both the agreement with law enforcement and the landmark Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted at a Dallas meeting of the nation’s bishops in 2002 after the eruption of the clergy sex abuse crisis.
“This shows a terrible lack of responsibility on the part of the archbishop,” said Theresa Padovano, the New Jersey coordinator for Voice of the Faithful, a lay reform group. “You just want to throw your hands up. What are they thinking?”
In a rare breach of unity, two of Myers’ fellow bishops appeared to distance themselves from his stance, saying through aides that Fugee’s attendance at youth retreats in their dioceses was without their knowledge or permission.
The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, unaware of Fugee’s interaction with the youth group until contacted by The Star-Ledger, immediately launched an investigation and appealed to anyone with information to come forward.
Fugee, 52, could face civil penalties, criminal charges or both if he is found to have violated the agreement, said Assistant Prosecutor Demetra Maurice, assistant chief of the special victims unit.
It was not immediately clear whether Myers individually or the archdiocese in general could face consequences.
In addition to Fugee and Prosecutor John Molinelli, the archdiocese’s vicar general signed the agreement on behalf of Myers, pledging to abide by the restrictions on Fugee’s ministry.
The document — which can be found on NJ.com, the online home of The Star-Ledger — states explicitly that Fugee may not have unsupervised contact with children, minister to children or 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 (or Sunday school), confessions of children, youth choir, youth retreats and day care,” the agreement says.
Myers’ spokesman, Jim Goodness, said the archbishop and Fugee were unavailable for comment.
But 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.
“We believe that the archdiocese and Father Fugee have adhered to the stipulations in all of his activities, and will continue to do so,” Goodness said.
Read the full story at NJ.com (April 28, 2013)
Editor’s note: Few stories I’ve written have generated such outrage from readers across the country. The president of the New Jersey Senate and numerous other elected officials called for the archbishop to resign. National Catholic publications criticized him harshly. Authorities instantly launched a criminal investigation, charging Fugee with breaching his promise to stay away from kids.
Swiftly defrocked, he is now under lifetime supervision by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. In the end, the archdiocese’s second-in-command and another pastor were reassigned, and two youth ministers were fired. The prosecutor also harshly criticized the archbishop, saying he would never again trust him to monitor problem priests.
The Fugee case also led The Star-Ledger to revisit how New Jersey’s dioceses deal with sexually abusive priests, resulting in additional stories.
➽ Lax supervision let priest freely associate with kids (PDF) (May 5, 2013)
At Holy Family Church in Nutley, the Rev. Michael Fugee was a familiar face.
He sometimes said Mass. He visited his close friend, the Rev. Paul Bochicchio. And he gave occasional talks to the parish youth group on the Bible’s meaning.
“One thing I can tell you is that his greatest fans are teenagers,” said Bochicchio, a monsignor and Holy Family’s pastor.
Bochicchio makes no secret of Fugee’s interactions with young people. Indeed, there was nothing furtive about it. Photos on Facebook show the two priests celebrating Mass together and joining in a prayer circle with teens on an annual pilgrimage to a Canadian shrine.
A week after The Star-Ledger disclosed that Fugee had violated a lifetime ban on ministry to children by working with a Monmouth County youth group, what’s become clear is that the purported supervision of the priest by the Archdiocese of Newark amounted to little or no supervision at all.
Fugee, who admitted to police in 2001 that he fondled a teenage boy, went where he wanted to go, whether it was to youth retreats outside the archdiocese or to give talks to the teens at Holy Family in Nutley. If officials in the archdiocese were watching, no one raised a flag. (More)
➽ Priest at center of Newark Archdiocese scandal quits ministry (May 2, 2013)
➽ Spared prison, abuse suspect faces loss of his priesthood, lifetime of restrictions (PDF)(Nov. 9, 2013)