By David Cruz
The controversy over a former Archdiocese of Newark priest who was allowed to work with children after admitting sexual contact with a minor has continued to grow.
When it came to light that kids in the St. Mary’s of Colts Neck youth group were in contact with Father Mike Fugee, the pastor of the church — Tom Triggs — told concerned parishioners that he knew nothing about Fugee’s role there — or his past.
“I came over here and I confronted Father Tom,” St. Mary’s parishioner John Grabowski said. “He was the first one I saw, and he goes, ‘I didn’t even know this guy. I didn’t even know him.’ And I’ve gone through a week of hell because I do a lot of volunteer stuff here. I live across the street. I went through a week of hell with this.”
It is standard procedure, according to church officials, for any priest doing any work outside of his assigned parish to obtain and show a “Testimonial of Suitability,” which, as it sounds, attests to the suitability of a priest and whether he has a criminal background, a history of sexual behavior or a history of sexual behavior toward children. We weren’t able to confirm whether the Monsignor at Holy Name in Nutley, who said Fugee had done work there for decades, had obtained this form. But in the case of St. Mary’s in Colts Neck, it was clear that nobody had asked for it.
“In this particular incident, father didn’t ask for it, at the parish they didn’t request it, so there was a breakdown there, for whatever reason. But that’s being reemphasized very clearly here,” said Newark Archdiocese Spokesman James Goodness. “Anyone who has restrictions or anything untoward in his record would not get that permission to go.”
But sources say enforcement of that rule was heretofore very lax, and that if priests wanted to get around it, for whatever reason, they could simply ignore it. But there are supposed to be consequences, according to Canon Lawyer James Connell.
“If they truly are responsible for it, they would be subject to a just penalty. And that would depend on the circumstances of the situation. If it resulted in some major problem, I think the just penalty could certainly be a substantial penalty,” Connell said.
As signators to the agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office that was supposed to keep Father Fugee away from children, Father Fugee and the Archdiocese could face civil or even criminal charges. The Archdiocese says it’s been cooperating. What considerations they’ll seek or be granted as a result of that cooperation is still unknown.