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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.


Commenting Guidelines

Jim, I don't see any indication that Fr Bochicchio acted the way he did with Fr Fugee specifically because Fugee is a priest. I would tend to believe that he would behave in the same way (thoughtless, loyal, like a labrador) with any friend of his, not with priests because they are priests.As to Abp Myers and Goodness, it is better that I do not write what I think of them.

Also, I have no problem with Fr. Bochicchio bearing consequences for his lack of judgment.

Jim and Claire,There are countless cases of sexual abuse where the code word "wrestling" was used. It was a stock answer and Richard Sipe even wrote an article about such code words basically designed to mask the truth.A friend, Peter Pollard, abused in Boston by George Rosenkranz who was excused by McCormack for horsing around. Abuser James Aylward in San Francisco "wrestles" with a teen, is caught by another priest, who is removed from office for reporting perp to police. Levada forced to admit later it was abuse. Bochicchio is part of exhibit A in why the crisis was allowed to fester as it did. He takes the word of a priest that the case was all a set-up. The confession? Extracted somehow from an innocent man! Really now. His excuses for Fugee were legion. It's called "willful blindness" under the law.And the bishops were so supine in accepting abusers' claims to "wrestling or horsing around." Where has Bochicchio been for the last decade plus? Ignorance doesn't begin to cover it; more like "conscious ignorance," another legal term. Wake up and grow up!Start by reading Sacrilege by Leon Podles, or the first Phila grand jury report: The abuses ranged from glancing touches of genitals under the guise of innocent wrestling to sadomasochistic rituals and relentless anal, oral, and vaginal rapes. We found that no matter what physical form the abuse took, or how often it was repeated, the damage to these childrens psyches was devastating.Nette Vogel, a Rhode Island Supreme Court judge was furious when the Providence diocese skirted her court order to report abuse instances and deleted wrestling and horseplay. This is fondling a boys genitals, shot back Vogel. Later, alluding to Bishop Gelineaus written response, Vogel asked, He didnt consider that notice of sexual misconduct? . . . Whats horseplay? Im baffled. Parents are going to the Woonsocket police over horseplay? . . . He might look very weak on cross-examination if he wants to suggest to a jury that such information was considered by him to be merely horseplay, that it was sufficient to transfer the priest to a larger parish, that the Woonsocket police were involved, and that he didnt see the need to pursue it further. (Bishop) Gelineau), said (Judge) Vogel, was a see-no-evil, hear-no-evil type of guy, apparentlyIf Bochicchio doesnt get the point, maybe he will believe Bishop John Kinney, former head of the USCCB ctee on sexual abuse: We learned that even those priests who seem to their congregations, their fellow priests, and their superiors among the most dedicated and pastorally sensitive can be abusers. Their pathology enables them to develop highly effective strategies to conceal their desires and behaviors.Parents better not trust their children around Bochicchio if he is as clueless as his ignorant comments suggest. Was he trained in abuse detection and prevention or not?? I am out of patience.

Carolyn: one wonders, indeed, whether he was trained in abuse prevention.Jim: clericalism as the tendency of clergy to protect and increase their power and prerogatives at the expense of the people they should be ministering to - I don't think of it quite that way. A mere tendency to increase one's power at the expense of the people over which one has some authority, as you write, well, that's just natural everywhere and in other settings as well. Instead, I think of clericalism as setting clergy apart from and above lay people, as though they were better because they are clergy, as though the rules that apply to others don't apply to them because they are clergy. All the things that sharpen the separation between lay and clergy (for example, elaborate vestments, physical barriers between the sanctuary and the rest of the church, reserving a special foreign language to clergy, lay people kneeling in front of a standing priest, reserving the communion cup to the clergy, repeating ad nauseam that priest = Christ, and even celibacy requirements for clergy) heighten the risk of clericalism, and all the things that emphasize what we have in common decrease it.

Carolyn - you're much more eloquent on this than I could be.Claire - I don't think we're far apart on clericalism. Your examples are primarily liturgical, but clericalism can manifest itself in many ways, and I'm suggesting that the way it manifests itself in a sex-abuse incident is what we've seen play out in Newark: both Bochicchio and Myers apparently believe that Fugee is exempt from both laws and common-sense rules and precautions. Perhaps you're right that Bochicchio would be loyal to a fault with any of his friends, whether clergy or lay, but Carolyn states what I had in mind: there is a pervasive pattern of priests being loyal to a fault with brother priests. Barbara once wrote something very perceptive, which I don't know how to find or retrieve from the archives, but which would bear another reading: that when a priest discovers evidence of another priest's abusive behavior, he must blow the whistle, not only on a confrere, but on a personal friend. Many priests have failed the test of valuing the protection of victims over the bonds of personal friendship. I understand that, as I have failed many tests in many situations over the years. Yet because we find a personal failure to be understandable, we needn't and mustn't excuse it. This is why I find Bishop O'Connell's reaction to the Colt's Neck situation to be bracing. I hesitate to gush about it, because bishops as a whole never seem to reach the bottom in their capacity to disappoint when it comes to their management of sex-abuse scandals, but I think it's the very best reaction by a bishop to a sex-abuse situation that I can think of.

Yes, the Trenton bishop's statements are hopeful. We need that hope, Jim.But please excuse my "hermeneutic of suspicion" if I add, "trust, but verify (first)."

Carolyn, yes, both his statements and his actions.

Claire: I think a primary tool of clericalism IS stonewalling.

An array of NJ politicians now are calling for Myers to resign.

... and here is more on calls from NJ politicians for Myers to step down. live 1000 miles from New Jersey and claim no knowledge of its politics or personalities. But at the risk of gross generalization, I just want to call attention to the surnames of the people who are calling Myers to account. From this news story:SweeneyVitaleVainieriBuonoMolinelliParentaThese are "Catholic names". I think it's likely that most of these folks have some connection with the Catholic church - they are Catholic themselves, and/or have a Catholic heritage. It seems to me that this might be an instance of the Church - which most certainly includes the laity - holding the hierarchy of the Church accountable.

Here's the Catholic lay person whose voice could actually lead to accountability. So far he is sitting on the fence; Goodness, the archdiocese spokesman, has confirmed that Fugee attended weekend retreats with the St. Marys of Colts Neck youth ministry over the past few years.He insisted Fugees involvement did not violate the agreement with prosecutors, because youth ministry staff were in supervision, but noted that Fugees association was unofficial and unknown by archdiocesan officers until press inquiries about the trips.In other words: First, we didn't know Fr Fugee was ministering at St Mary's, and second, if we did know about it, then it was done according to the legal agreement.

This is a welcome move in Paterson. continue to be encouraged that the bishops of Paterson and Trenton might push for real action here.

"In other words: First, we didnt know Fr Fugee was ministering at St Marys, and second, if we did know about it, then it was done according to the legal agreement."Or in still other words: If we haven't been sued yet over this, we're preparing to be sued, and tailoring our public statements accordingly. This is the Good News according to the apostle's lawyer.Admittedly, this notion of proclaiming the Good News through the medium of one's lawyer is interesting. Here is one possibility:The Disciples and the Sabbath - and the Lawyer23As he was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain.24At this the Pharisees said to him, Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?25He stood aside to let his lawyer speak. And his lawyer said to them, It is not yet proved that it is the sabbath. Nor is it proved that these are my disciples. Nor is it proved that they actually picking the heads of grain. But if these are my disciples and it is the sabbath and they are picking the heads of grain, then it is lawful for these disciples to pick these heads of grain on this sabbath."

From the article to which Jack Marth linked in his most recent comment:"Though he said it certainly is unusual, victims advocate Mark Crawford had a mixed reaction to the Paterson Diocese statement. Crawford said its a sign of progress that the diocese is making a strong effort of reaching out to victims. But he said church officials should encourage people with information about sexual abuse to go straight to investigators in law enforcement agencies. Crawford said he has known priests to have discouraged victims from coming forward by saying they or their families would be embarrassed if the news became public."My view is that people with information about sexual abuse should go to both law enforcement and the church, independently (i.e. don't rely on the church to inform law enforcement; do it directly)*. The reason is that, to do a complete job of removing an abusive cleric, both secular law enforcement and church law enforcement need to take the actions that are appropriate to their spheres of competency. On the part of secular law enforcement agencies, it is to investigate whether any crimes have taken place, and file charges and prosecute the offenders as necessary. On the part of church officials, it is to investigate whether the accusations are credible, and if so, to remove the offender from ministry and initiate the process to have him removed permanently from the clerical state.One of the lessons we've learned from these scandals, in my opinion, is that law enforcement agencies can't always be relied on to completely solve the problem of abusive clerics in ministry. One reason is that they are constrained by such things as statutes of limitations or a lack of evidence that meets their threshold for moving forward with a prosecution. And law enforcement agencies don't always exhibit sound judgment; in my view, the prosecutor who entered into the agreement with Fugee and the archdiocese that left Fugee in public ministry did not serve the people of New Jersey well; it would have been better if Fugee had been retried for (and hopefully convicted of) the criminal charge that the appellate court had vacated. None of this is to excuse the archdiocese, Pretty clearly it dropped the ball, and people are right to distrust its ability to process these cases in the interest of the people it is supposed to be serving. But ultimately, both the secular law enforcement agencies and the diocese are the only games in town for their respective spheres of responsibility. If either or both drops the ball, the remedies are the ones we've seen pursued time and time again: shine the light of publicity on them, and pursue reparations via the courts.* For people who are mandated reporters of the sexual abuse of children - clergy, teachers, health care workers and the like - there is a third set of reporting that must be done, to the agency charged with investigating these crimes.

both secular law enforcement and church law enforcement need to take the actions that are appropriate to their spheres of competency. On the part of secular law enforcement agencies, it is to investigate whether any crimes have taken place, and file charges and prosecute the offenders as necessary. On the part of church officials, it is to investigate whether the accusations are credible, and if so, to remove the offender from ministry and initiate the process to have him removed permanently from the clerical state.Jim, I do not want to defend clergy who have committed sexual abuse. Too many have been able to do it unchecked for a long, long time, and a rigorous, systematic pursuit of crimes is necessary to redress the mentalities. But your comment shows with clarity the unfairness of the procedure. It is the job of secular law enforcement to deal with crimes. That's what police, law and justice are for. Church officials do not have the same qualifications. It secular justice cannot determine that it is probable that a crime has taken place, then neither can church law enforcement. So why should they come and do their own separate assessment? It is not because there are acts that they consider to be sexual abuse and that are not a crime in the eyes of secular justice. Unlike, say, the case of women's ordination, there is no reason for them to do their own police work. In my view their role in such matters is to cooperate with and help secular justice, not to substitute their own version. Otherwise it leads to situations such as Fr Fugee condemned by justice but judged by church officials to be innocent! - until they are pressured by the media, that is, and then they change their mind; or it leads to some priests against which secular justice decides that accusations cannot lead to reasonable evidence, but whom church officials decide to get rid of anyway, under the pressure of the media and out of fear for themselves - hardly the context for a just decision. More like a kangaroo court! (Since statutes of limitations have been revealed, in the case of child sexual abuse, to be an impediment to carrying out justice, we must work at changing them, not substitute a fake church-led "justice" that flaunts all the principles safeguarding the integrity of secular justice.)

Not sure how long it will be there -- but check out the front page of the Trenton Diocese website:, Trenton and Paterson are clearly dealing with this in the way the Dallas Charter demands. Striking contrast with Newark where Myers seems more concerned about liability than protecting children:

I should have noted that when you click on the "For More Information About Father Michael Fugee..." link on the front page of the Trenton Diocese website, you get a very straightforward summary of the case. was particularly struck by this paragraph:"In 2001, Father Fugee, while serving in Wycoff, was convicted of criminal sexual contact with a minor. That conviction was later overturned on appeal for procedural reasons. Rather than retry the case, authorities offered Father Fugee the opportunity to undergo counseling and rehabilitation and agree to limited ministry that would preclude access to children and youth. In compliance with those restrictions, the Archdiocese had given Father Fugee responsibilities in the Chancery in Newark."Trenton gives a much clearer and honest description of Fugee's legal process regarding the criminal conviction-- "overturned on appeal for procedural reasons". This is a lot different than the misleading characterization out of Newark:"acquittal and final vacating of the charges." (see Gene Palumbo's post of 04/30/2013 - 12:09 pm)

There's also this, on the homepage of the diocese of Paterson:

" It secular justice cannot determine that it is probable that a crime has taken place, then neither can church law enforcement. So why should they come and do their own separate assessment? It is not because there are acts that they consider to be sexual abuse and that are not a crime in the eyes of secular justice."The two entities- secular law enforcement, and the church - have their own separate spheres of competency. The concern of secular law enforcement is to redress the disorder caused to society by crimes, by prosecuting and punishing offenders and protecting potential victims from further crimes. Their responsibility is to society. The job of the church, in this instance, is to ensure that its members are not subjected to abuse, and to protect the integrity of its holy orders, the good name of the church and the church's assets. The latter three are no concern of secular law enforcement but they are important concerns of the church. But the first of these, ensuring that its members are not subjected to abuse, has some overlap with the concerns of secular law enforcement. This is why I think the agreement between the prosecutors and Fugee was a bad idea: it served the goals neither of the state nor the church.I don't consider the two entities and their law enforcement to be substitutes for one another, but rather complements. That they are substitutes is claimed from time to time, but it is, or should be, a fallacy. It is no different than the case of an employee of a secular organization who commits a crime that also violates a company rule - say, he embezzles money from the company. He will be prosecuted by the state for the crime, and his employment will be terminated by the employer. The two actions do not substitute for one another - they complement one another.You mentioned ordination of women as an example of an action that violates church laws but not secular laws. It can work the other way as well: those three Plowshares activists violated secular criminal law but, arguably, not church law. But when an act violates the laws of both entities, it's appropriate and necessary that both entities apply the discipline that is appropriate to their sphere of competency.

Claire, as a follow-on to my previous comment: I note this statement on the homepage of the Paterson diocese, which Gene linked to a couple of comments above:"If anyone has any information about inappropriate behavior on the part of Father Fugee, please notify your County Prosecutor's Office. Please also inform the diocese by contacting Monsignor James T. Mahoney, Vicar General and Moderator of the Curia (973-777-8818, ext. 205) or Sister Mary Edward Spohrer, S.C.C., Chancellor (973-777-8818, ext. 248)."This seems to me exactly right: people with information should contact both the prosecutor and the diocese, as two independent actions.

Star Ledger Editorial which denounces Myers' silence and praises O'Connell."And not all members of the hierarchy treat the problem as casually as Myers has. Trenton Bishop David OConnell acted swiftly to accept the resignation of the Rev. Thomas Triggs, pastor of St. Marys Parish in Colts Neck, whose youth ministers invited the abusive priest, Michael Fugee, to attend youth retreats and other activities with teens in the parish.A diocesan priest, the Rev. John Bambrick, is an advocate for victims of clergy sexual abuse, has been outspoken about Myers behavior, saying Myers has erased 10 years of hard work by the church in the United States to ensure people are safe.It is gratifying to see Myers silence answered with such conviction. This is not just a church matter. Myers representative signed a legal agreement with prosecutors in Bergen County. Any citizen has a right to object. The politicians who have done so, and the members of the church who have, deserve our gratitude for stepping up on behalf of children."

"It secular justice cannot determine that it is probable that a crime has taken place, then neither can church law enforcement. So why should they come and do their own separate assessment? It is not because there are acts that they consider to be sexual abuse and that are not a crime in the eyes of secular justice"Claire, I may have misunderstood your comment in my previous replies, so let me try again :-). A couple of points:* I'm not sure I agree that the church is incompetent to determine whether a violation has taken place. I believe the theory of a grand jury in secular law enforcement is that average citizens have the capacity to determine this; it doesn't take years of specialized training. And the diocesan review boards tend to be staffed by people with some expertise - in law, in child social work, and so on.* The standards for secular crime may be different than the church's violations. The Dallas Charter's definition of abusive behavior is quite broad - I'd think it encompasses a number of possibilities that wouldn't qualify as clear-cut criminal behavior under secular law. Whether this is good or bad is an interesting topic to consider. But it should be possible to find an accusation credible, under the standards of the Charter, even if it doesn't rise to a crime as defined by secular law. This why it is so troubling that the Newark diocesan review board, as reported by Goodness, found the accusations against Fugee to not be credible. It's extremely difficult to understand how that can be. More information is needed. Perhaps a member of the review board will offer an explanation. This is one of the most worrisome aspects of the case. As things stand now, Fugee is removed from ministry despite, rather than because of, the review board. (Also - happy Mother's Day, to you, Irene, Jean, Mollie, Gerelyn, and all the other moms who hang out here.)

Jim, I've been sitting on your previous comment, not sure how to reply. Think about this: who decides who gets to be on diocesan review boards? Who decides which cases are brought to the attention of the review board? Who decides which documents are given to he board and what information they have to work with? Who ultimately decides on a case? Is the bishop impartial or does he have some skin in the game? What are the safeguards ensuring a modicum of justice? Etc, etc. I think that secular justice does an incomparably better job of balancing everyone's needs for justice and fair treatment.

Claire - I agree that the possibility of gaming the review board process is there - we know it is; reports of it in at least one other diocese has been published on dotCom. More information on Newark's process would be helpful.

The pressure continues to escalate: the NY Times has now picked up the story.

I was disappointed by the NYTs article. It reads the Memo of Understanding wrong and plays into the original Newark/Catholic League misinterpretation of the MOU. The MOU reads:"shall not assign or otherwise place Michael Fugee in any position within the Archdiocese that allows him to have any unsupervised contact with or to minister to any minor/child under the age of 18 or work in any position in which children are involved. This includes, but is not limited to, presiding over a parish, involvement with a youth group, religious education/parochial school, CCD, confessions with children, youth choir, youth retreats and day care."Unsupervised" only modifies contact As to ministering or working, theres nothing about supervision; the prohibition is absolute. No ministry with minors supervised or otherwise period. It is made even more clear from the list of prohibited activities. Will Donohue praise the NYTs for adopting his incorrect reading of the MOU?In the print version of the Times it said Trenton is an Archdiocese. I see that is corrected. What are the chances the Times will correct this much more important mistake? If anyone is interested -- I suggest contacting the public editor to get this corrected.

Bp Myers fires his vicar general, Msgr Doran, and writes a letter to be read in all parishes: