Sex Abuser Priests Often Remain Within Diocesan Community

May 8, 2013 | Religion
Information easily accessible to the public about priests forced out of priesthood for sex abuse differs among parishes within the Catholic Church.

By David Cruz
NJ Today

The Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People is a document approved by Catholic bishops in 2002 aimed to provide transparency about church policies and services regarding victims of abuse. But as we found when we tried to get information about sex abuser priests, some diocese are more transparent than others.

Most Archdiocese now provide online information about their policies on child abuse. On the homepage of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. There are links to services and other resources for reporting and responding to sexual abuse. But there’s also a link to sex abuser priests — names and photos, as well as the parishes where the abuse occurred. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which has paid out more than $700 million in sex abuse settlements, also lists programs and services on its site, but to find sex abuser priests, you’ve got to dig a bit more. But you can eventually find victims’ accounts which identify L.A. priests.

The Newark Archdiocese, however, does not identify sex abuser priests. Sam Rivera knows firsthand how difficult it can be to dislodge information from the Archdiocese of Newark. He was allegedly abused back in 1978, finally settling a claim against the Archdiocese of Newark in 2012.

“Same thing over and over again,” said Rivera. “It took us over three years to get this pastor out of our church in Newark by Bishop [John] Myers, lot of protesting, lot of meetings with the Archdiocese of Newark, until they finally got rid of him. Well, they let him retire, so it’s all the same thing.”

But what happens after a child abusing priest resigns or is laicized, returned to life outside of the priesthood. In the case of Mike Fugee, anyway, it’s still unclear. As of today, he still lives within the Archdiocese, according to a source, in one of a number of church properties. He is said to be “transitioning” to a place of his own, outside of the Archdiocese, which he will maintain “on his own,” which raises the question:

“Who’s going to be monitoring him now?” asks Bob Hoatson, founder of Road to Recovery, a victim’s advocacy group. “Will he now have to register as a sex offender? Will the Bergen County Prosecutor come and say to him well, since you breached it already, it’s very clear you breached the agreement, we’re gonna make you sign up as a sex offender on Megan’s Law, so let’s hope that happens because if he’s out there floating around by himself, children are still at risk.”

“Now that question is diocese by diocese, and so it’s a question the Archdiocese of Newark should answer as to how are they keeping an eye on this guy, what kind of monitoring goes on,” added Canon Lawyer James Connell. “There may be somebody who is to monitor him and check in on him daily, see what is happening, but he’s probably not being confined any place, so it’s not as if there’s going to be a 24-hour monitoring of him.”

Theresa Padovano, of Voice of the Faithful, another victims’ advocacy group, says the larger question is what special considerations priests may be getting because they’re a part of an institution, like the Catholic Church. “I think they should be held accountable just like any other citizen would be,” she said. “There shouldn’t be any special rules for them. Whatever would be applicable for a teacher in a school or somebody working with Boy Scouts, or whatever, the same rules should hold. There shouldn’t be any special status for them when it comers to criminal actions.”

The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office told us today that the guilty verdict against Fugee was overturned on appeal so he would not have to register as a sex offender. If he’s found to have violated the agreement with the Prosecutor’s Office, he’d be charged with fourth degree criminal contempt — a charge that could carry a sentence of up to 18 months but would not require any monitoring.