This time in Newark, NJ. The bishop is Archbishop John Myers, and the offending priest is Michael Fugee, who admitted groping a 14 year-old boy 12 years ago. (He later recanted his confession, saying that he’d only confessed so he could go home sooner.) He was tried and convicted, but the conviction overturned on appeal based on inappropriate instructions to the jury. The appellate ruling did not question the validity of the confession. According to the NJ Star-Ledger, rather than re-try the case,
the prosecutor’s office allowed him to enter pre-trial intervention, a rehabilitation program for first offenders. At the same time, the prosecutor’s office secured an agreement that Fugee undergo counseling for sex offenders and have no unsupervised contact with children as long as he is a priest.
I infer that Fugee’s agreeing to this condition means that he, in effect, recants his recantation. Otherwise, it would be a serious infringement on his ministry. A later effort to have his record expunged was denied on grounds of public safety. Subsequently, Fugee has been assigned to significant posts in the Archdiocese. His latest post is co-director of the Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests.
On the face of it, this is a good resolution. After all, this job would not seem to bring him into contact with children, which is the terms of his deal with legal authorities.
Alas, not so. Archbishop John Myers also permits him to say Mass in various parishes around the diocese, and in 2009 he appointed him to a position as a hospital chaplain. At least in the case of one of the parishes and the hospital chaplaincy, no one was told of the terms of Fugee’s ministry. Noting other cases in which Myers has shown excessive leniency to sex offending priests, the NJ Star-Ledger has called for Myers to resign. Concerning Fugee, the editorial board states:
Fugee was not to work in any position involving children, or have any affiliation with youth groups. He could not attend youth retreats, or even hear the confessions of children. With the full knowledge and approval of Myers, Fugee did all of those things. Look at the picture of him clowning around with children in today’s paper, and it makes you want to scream a warning. The agreement was designed to prevent exactly that.
Details of Myers’ handling of other accused priests may be found here.
Fugee’s is a hard case, and partly done right. His day job does not involve kids. The problem is two-fold:
1. the failure to advise parish and hospital authorities of limitations on his ministry.
2. More significant, however, is that this seems to be in clear violation of the Dallas Charter, under the terms of its zero tolerance policy, viz:
When even a single act of sexual abuse by a priest or deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offending priest or deacon will be removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, if the case so warrants (SST, Art. 6; CIC, c. 1395 §2; CCEO, c. 1453 §1).
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