Another Bishop Hits the News
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 prosecutors office allowed him to enter pre-trial intervention, a rehabilitation program for first offenders. At the same time, the prosecutors 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 todays 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).
The following norm states
At all times, the diocesan bishop/eparch has the executive power of governance, within the parameters of the universal law of the Church, through an administrative act, to remove an offending cleric from office, to remove or restrict his faculties, and to limit his exercise of priestly ministry. Because sexual abuse of a minor by a cleric is a crime in the universal law of the Church (CIC, c. 1395 2; CCEO, c. 1453 1) and is a crime in all civil jurisdictions in the United States, for the sake of the common good and observing the provisions of canon law, the diocesan bishop/eparch shall exercise this power of governance to ensure that any priest or deacon who has committed even one act of sexual abuse of a minor as described above shall not continue in active ministry.
It could be argued that the zero tolerance policy is unjust, in that (among other things,) it does not take adequate account of relevant differences between KINDS of abuse. People who abuse young children (true pedophiles) are persistently dangerous, and arguably the one-strike policy is prudent for them. People like Fugee, abusers of teens, are more amenable to therapy. I do not know whether Fugee has responded to therapy to such a degree that allowing him access to children is safe. Even so, allowing him into ministry with kids violates the charter as well as the agreement with civil authorities.The failure to warn the parish or hospital authorities about him is only implicitly addressed by the Charter. After all, the presumption is that abusers are removed from ministry, so there's nothing about situations in which they are not. However, the Charter does state:
Dioceses/eparchies are to be open and transparent in communicating with the public about sexual abuse of minors by clergy within the confines of respect for the privacy and the reputation of the individuals involved. This is especially so with regard to informing parish and other church communities directly affected by the sexual abuse of a minor.
I do not know what will ensue from Myers' allowing Fugee to violate the terms of his agreement. It is hard to reconcile his behavior with his own account of how he promised to deal with such cases. This from his 2004 letter to the diocese:
From our initial policies in the mid 1980s, to more formal policies, to our participation in drafting and implementing a comprehensive Memorandum of Understanding with the New Jersey Attorney General and county prosecutors, we are committed to obeying all current and future laws dealing with sexual abuse. We are also committed to pursuing all appropriate options available under the law of the Church to assure that those who offend never return to ministry.
Even if he believes Fugee's recantation of his confession, and even if he thinks the legal agreement restricting Fugee's ministry is unnecessary, he has failed to cooperate with law enforcement on this one. And, sadly, I suspect that the fallout from Myers' violation of the Dallas Charter will be pretty much like that of other bishops who have violated it. Nothing much.
About the Author
Lisa Fullam is professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).