NEWARK, N.J. (RNS) Amid calls for a Vatican investigation, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers is facing fierce criticism for his handling of a priest who attended youth retreats and heard confessions from minors in defiance of a court-ordered lifetime ban on ministry to children.

Newark Archbishop John J. Myers is facing fierce criticism for his handling of a priest who attended youth retreats and heard confessions from minors in defiance of a court-ordered lifetime ban on ministry to children. Religion News Service photo by Ed Murray/The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.

Newark Archbishop John J. Myers is facing fierce criticism for his handling of a priest who attended youth retreats and heard confessions from minors in defiance of a court-ordered lifetime ban on ministry to children. Religion News Service photo by Ed Murray/The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.


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At St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Colts Neck, where the Rev. Michael Fugee had been spending time with a youth group, angry parishioners said they were never told about Fugee’s background, and they questioned Myers’ defense of the priest, the subject of a lengthy story in The Star-Ledger.

“It’s complete craziness that the church can let this happen,” said John Santulli, 38, a father of two at St. Mary’s. “I’m a softball coach, and I need a background check just to get on the field. Every single person I spoke to today said, ‘Oh my God. I didn’t know about this.’ It’s incomprehensible.”

Fugee, 52, is a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark and under Myers’ supervision. His work at St. Mary’s, however, was in the neighboring Diocese of Trenton, where Bishop David O’Connell has ordered the pastor of St. Mary to bar Fugee from any church activities, a spokeswoman said in a statement.

The bishop of the neighboring Diocese of Paterson, Arthur Serratelli, has likewise said Fugee was on a retreat at Lake Hopatcong without his permission.

For the first time in his many years as an advocate for victims of clergy sex abuse, Mark Crawford, state director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called on the archbishop to resign, characterizing Fugee as the latest in a string of problem priests shielded by Myers.

“The archbishop continues to insist it’s fine for Fugee to work with children. It’s a very dangerous message,” Crawford said. “When will it be enough? When someone gets hurt? What does it take when you have a man who has admitted groping a child on more than one occasion?”

The Star-Ledger, too, called for Myers to step down in an editorial, saying the archbishop “has shown a pattern of leniency toward pedophiles, indifference to potential victims, and a haughty disdain for those who dare to question his judgment.”

Fugee was convicted in 2003 of criminal sexual contact for allegedly fondling a 14-year-old boy’s genitals on two occasions. Three years later, an appellate court vacated the verdict, ruling the trial judge should not have allowed jurors to hear the part of Fugee’s confession in which he described himself as homosexual or bisexual.

The rest of the confession was not called into question.

Rather than retry Fugee, prosecutors allowed him to enter a rehabilitation program for first-time offenders, on the condition that he undergo counseling for sex offenders and sign an agreement barring him from any work in which children are involved. The archdiocese’s vicar general, on behalf of Myers, signed the agreement as well.

Yet The Star-Ledger found Fugee has apparently violated that pledge with impunity, attending retreats and hearing confessions and traveling with members of the St. Mary youth group to Canada.

Jim Goodness, a spokesman for Myers, denied Fugee had broken the agreement because he was under the supervision of other priests and St. Mary’s two youth ministers, who are longtime friends with the priest.

“Father Fugee remains a priest who is allowed to be in ministry,” Goodness said Monday (April 29). “There is no change in his status at this point.”

Prosecutors have now launched an investigation into Fugee’s activities; that probe remains underway. If he is found to have violated the agreement, Fugee could face civil penalties, criminal charges or both, said Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Demetra Maurice, assistant chief of the special victims unit.

Others are calling on the Vatican to launch an investigation of its own.

The Rev. James Connell, an influential Wisconsin priest who has pressed the church for greater transparency on issues of sexual abuse, emailed a letter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office that has dealt with the abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church.

Connell, a canon lawyer and the former vice chancellor of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, asked for an investigation into whether Myers violated canon law by failing to notify Rome of the abuse allegations against Fugee.

Connell also questioned whether Fugee should have been returned to ministry at all given the priest’s initial confession and then his willingness to enter the rehabilitation program. Connell calls that decision another admission of wrongdoing.

“The truth in this crisis has to come to light or we will never have true justice,” Connell said in a telephone interview. “We cannot expect there to be healing for the victims and survivors if we do not have that truth.”

The controversy has stirred the ire of rank-and-file Catholics with no connection to Fugee or St. Mary’s parish. Carolann Aschoff, a family attorney from Roseland, N.J., fired off her own letter to Pope Francis and started an online petition demanding Fugee’s reassignment and other measures for greater accountability and supervision in the church.

“Ignoring the agreement they made — ignoring common sense, ignoring prudence, ignoring the protection of children — is really beyond belief,” Aschoff said. “They’re being reckless, and no one should be reckless with children.”

10 Comments

  1. It would appear that Archbishop John J. Myers may have blatantly broken the law and it is becoming pretty clear that the Newark Archdiocese needs to have a Grand Jury Investigation into how they handle child sex crimes.

    It is extremely rare that a child predator has only one victim. Some have many. Child predators need to be kept far away from kids forever, and the church officials know this.
    So let’s hope that every person who saw, suspects or may has been harmed by Michael Fugee, will find the courage and strength to speak up and contact police, no matter how long ago the abuse happened.

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511. snapjudy@gmail.com,
    “SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

  2. Most of those who have been abused by priests refer to themselves as “survivors” of clergy sexual abuse. I am a VICTIM through and through. As a priest I was ordained and pledged obedience etc to the hierarchy of the church. My ordination in May 1971 was 9 months after I was raped by a priest at Sacred Heart Parish, Roslindale, MA. I thought that I was a bigger and better person, and that I could bring some good to the people of God in spite of the gross evil I had endured. In the fall of 2001 I experienced a flashback, and in the years that followed I’ve learned that members of the hierarchy EVERYWHERE have covered up and re-victimized victims. As long as ONE of these “men of the cloth” are in positions of authority I remain a VICTIM. I have had to step aside from ministry because in conscience I could not allow myself to represent these bishops/cardinals. I call upon ALL who have any sense of conscience at all to call for Myers’ resignation. The Vatican has left Finn continue on despite his conviction. Until we all raise our voices and shout from the rooftops nothing will change.
    Fr Jim Moran
    CDR, CHC, USNR(ret)

  3. It is strange how a religion based on the virgin conception of the Son of God, no sex before marriage and the damnation of homosexuals is being shamed by problems of bad sexual conduct. Many Caholics, including myself, believe that the sexual restrictions of the Priests, Nuns and other clergy members should be changed to allow them to be free and open about their sexuallity and even allow them to get married. When you have a religion based on forgiveness of sins, it is hard to keep tempting the sinner with their weakness and expect them not to sin again. We live in a world with many people with mental disorders that cannot be cured by simiple therapy. My family has lived as victims of a survivor of clergy abuse who never went for help and has shown various forms of control abuse. The number of victims does not just stop at the one person who was directly abused. When some abused people do not get help, they sometimes become abusers themselves in some way. If you don’t stop the main source of abuse, just think of how many people are impacted in this trickle down effect. I pray for a vote that will help this problem end so the bleeding will stop..

  4. When is this criminal negligence and aiding and abetting of sexual crimes going to stop?

    What is Myers himself into that he protects these animals? He needs to be investigated.

    Who are these “long-time” youth minister friends of this known sex offender that they bring him along on youth retreats? They need to be investigated too.

    What the hell is wrong with the Catholic hierarchy?

    What part of this do they not get?

    I’m beginning to think the only three possible answers to that are a) they’re all pedophiles b) they’re all borderline functional stupid and c) both.

    • St Mary's Parishioner

      As a St. Mary’s Parishioner who just went to the Friday night meeting to address this can state that everyone in charge is simply trying to sweep this under the rug. The youth minister are friend of Fugee and even had him as the best man in their wedding. In their prepared statement given to the parish they only stated the didn’t know about his agreement of not being allowed to hear confession. Nor did they apologize for putting the children at harm. Later when a parishioner told everyone of their relationship with Fugee she asked if they knew about his conviction in which they answered they did but it was overturned, not mentioning on a technicality. They showed no remorse for what they did. They even had the youth group share on their behalf. Many parishioners that work with children were outraged bc they themselves had to get a background check and finger printed for teaching ccd, yet why wasn’t this done with Fugee we all wondered?

      No answers were given, we even asked that the youth ministers step down, most of the parishioners agreed, but some did not. Especially the youth group who stated if they leave, so will they.

      It was a hard thing to watch these poor kids not know what harm they could have been afflicted with because of their leaders poor judgement. It was even harder to see the priests and deacons act as if nothing happened and just wanted to move on. I don’t think anything will be done about this at St. Mary’s and it is a shame that they don’t care enough for their youth to do so.

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