Remember when the Catholic church declared that their approach to dealing with the abusive clergy in their midst had changed? There would be no more moving them around or ignoring the possibility of recidivism. Apparently, not everyone got the memo; at least in New Jersey.
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.
He had been found guilty; then appealed the decision. In the agreement, Fugee pledged to avoid unsupervised contact with minors. The agreement also referenced both the ‘spirit and the letter ‘of the agreement. For interest’s sake, here is his original 2001 statement to the police; a statement that he later recanted.
However, Fugee ignored his agreement and maintained an unofficial association with the Monmouth County church, St. Mary’s Parish in Colts Neck.
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.
So, once again we are faced with a predator who still is allowed contact with minors. What brings this back to the scandal is that these actions had the permission of New Jersey’s highest-ranking Catholic official, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers. Myers did not have the support of everyone.
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.
Maybe they did. I’ll reserve judgement on this.
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….
Goodness, speaking for the archdiocese, has characterized Fugee in the past as a victim in the case, and Myers has repeatedly drawn criticism from advocates for his handling of the priest’s case.
In 2009, Myers placed Fugee at St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark as a chaplain without informing hospital officials of the criminal case. After inquiries from The Star-Ledger, the hospital swiftly requested his removal.
Then late last year, Myers named Fugee co-director of the Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests, igniting a new firestorm.
In a letter to priests in the diocese from Feb 2013, Myers claims to have done nothing wrong, with an explanation that he followed the strict wording of the agreement. The article in the New Jersey Star-Ledger continues with a list of Fugee’s actions.
In spring 2010, Franklin and his wife attended a youth retreat with their daughter at a retreat house along Lake Hopatcong. The couple served as cooks.
Fugee, Paul Franklin said, was there for much of the weekend and heard confessions from children in a private room.
At a separate retreat in 2012, one of Franklin’s teenage daughters and other minors gave confessions to Fugee, also in a private room, the deacon said. A Facebook photo of the retreat, held at the Kateri Environmental Center in Marlboro, shows a smiling Fugee with his arm around a teenage girl.
Many other Facebook photos show Fugee on the trips to Canada. The annual trips, to a shrine in Quebec, are not sponsored by the youth group, but many of the teens attend, Franklin said.
The deacon said Fugee also has attended at least two youth group meetings at St. Mary’s.
In addition, parishioners had not been informed of Fugee’s history or his agreement with prosecutors.
To Mark Crawford, New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national advocacy and support group, Fugee’s contact with children shows he can not be trusted.
“If you can take such liberties with an agreement you signed with the prosecutor’s office, then how can we trust his commitment not to harm children?” Crawford asked. “Frankly, he shows no fear of the law and a clear disregard for the law.”
So what has the hierarchy of the church learned from the priest abuse/shuffle scandal over the past number of years? Nothing.