By David Cruz
Calls are mounting for the resignation of Newark Archbishop John Myers today. Advocates for victims of priest sexual abuse say Myers allowed a confessed child molesting priest to continue to work with children, despite a court order prohibiting him from doing so.
It’s clear from a 2001 confession to police that Father Mike Fugee engaged in inappropriate touching of a 14-year-old boy, but what’s not clear is why he would then be allowed to accompany children to retreats and minister to them, in private. The answer to that — from the Archdiocese of Newark — has proven to be troubling.
Fugee appealed his 2001 conviction and an appeals court sent it back for re-trial, but rather than retry him, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office offered pre-trial intervention, which included a memorandum signed by the Archdiocese, Fugee and the prosecutor’s office and it specifically forbids Fugee from any interaction with children, including ministering, leading instruction or taking confessions in private.
But over the past decade that’s exactly what he’s been doing — leading services, taking confession and ministering to kids at retreats around the state, including at St. Mary’s in Colts Neck and in Canada — all without the knowledge of parishioners or clergy.
“If I had my children in the church, I would want to make sure that they were not effected and that the truth come out,” said St. Mary’s Parishioner Lorraine.
The memorandum also required that the local diocese be informed of Fugee’s participation in church activities. But a statement from the Paterson Diocese is pretty clear on that, too.
“The Paterson Diocese was not aware of the participation by Father Fugee … in a youth retreat in 2010 at Lake Hopatcong … for parishioners of St. Mary Parish in Colts Neck,” read Paterson Diocese Communications Director Richard Sokerka’s statement.
Through a spokesperson, Archbishop John Myers insists that Fugee did nothing wrong. The spokesman says Fugee’s conviction was vacated and that an archdiocese review board found that no criminal sexual contact had taken place back in 2001. This outrages Robert Hoatson, president of Road to Recovery, a former priest and an advocate for victims of priest sex abuse. He’s battled with Myers over Fugee for years, to the point where he says he was forced out of the priesthood. He’s calling for Archbishop Myers to resign.
“They found that Fr. Mike Fugee was a victim, rather than a perpetrator. That group is appointed by Archbishop Myers. That group is answerable only to Archbishop Myers. Archbishop Myers can do whatever he wants with the information coming out of that board, so that board can’t be trusted. No board appointed by a bishop can be trusted,” Hoatson said.
But the Archdiocese says the Vatican has looked at this case and given its blessing. We couldn’t independently verify that, and at least one critic says he’s not sure the Vatican has seen all the evidence.
“If they did what they were supposed to do and this decision is coming from Rome, then Rome needs to do some explaining,” said Fr. James Connell of St. Clement Parish in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. “On the other hand, if they did not send all the paperwork to Rome as required, and that Rome never did say this priest should be reinstated, then what’s being said to the public is not on point and maybe that does constitute coverup. They’re hiding something.”
Coverup is a big word. The Archdiocese says it’s got nothing else to say on this case. The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, meanwhile, has launched an investigation and would have nothing else to say, except to tell us to look closely at the memorandum of understanding, which at this point, looks like the document that holds the fate of both Mike Fugee and John Myers.