You may remember some months ago, I questioned the decision made by the Archbishop of Newark, John Myers, to elevate Father Michael Fugee to the position of co-director of the Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests.

This was done in the wake of a report detailing the molestation past of the priest, and the subsequent disposition of the case, in which he was allowed to enter pre trial intervention, counseling for sex offenders; and allowed to sign an agreement never to work in any capacity with children.

At the time I felt it was a “sweet” deal not only to have been dealt with as an abuser, but to then be given a lofty administrative position within the church.

Some might call that “business as usual”, given the church’s penchant for hiding priests charged with sexual abuse of minors.

Sad but true, especially in light of the church's recent history.

Probably the more pointed question should not only be whether or not the priest in question should still be serving as a priest, but should the Archbishop of Newark step down.

Six years ago, to avoid retrial on charges that he groped a teenage boy, the Rev. Michael Fugee entered a rehabilitation program, underwent counseling for sex offenders and signed a binding agreement that would dictate the remainder of his life as a Roman Catholic priest.

Fugee would not work in any position involving children, the agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office states. He would have no affiliation with youth groups. He would not attend youth retreats. He would not hear the confessions of minors.

But Fugee has openly done all of those things for the past several years through an unofficial association with a Monmouth County church, St. Mary’s Parish in Colts Neck, The Star-Ledger found.

He has attended weekend youth retreats in Marlboro and on the shores of Lake Hopatcong in Mount Arlington, parishioners say. Fugee also has traveled with members of the St. Mary’s youth group on an annual pilgrimage to Canada. At all three locations, he has heard confessions from minors behind closed doors.

What’s more, he has done so with the approval of New Jersey’s highest-ranking Catholic official, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers.

Advocates for victims of sexual abuse uniformly denounced Fugee and Myers, calling the priest’s involvement with children a blatant violation of both the agreement with law enforcement and the landmark Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, adopted at a Dallas meeting of the nation’s bishops in 2002 after the eruption of the clergy sex abuse crisis.

Theresa Padovano, the New Jersey coordinator for Voice of the Faithful, a lay reform group said, "this shows a terrible lack of responsibility on the part of the archbishop. You just want to throw your hands up. What are they thinking?"

In a rare breach of unity, two of Myers’ fellow bishops appeared to distance themselves from his stance, saying through aides that Fugee’s attendance at youth retreats in their dioceses was without their knowledge or permission.

The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, unaware of Fugee’s interaction with the youth group until contacted by The Star-Ledger, immediately launched an investigation and appealed to anyone with information to come forward.

Fugee, 52, could face civil penalties, criminal charges or both if he is found to have violated the agreement, said Assistant Prosecutor Demetra Maurice, assistant chief of the special victims unit.

It was not immediately clear whether Myers individually or the archdiocese in general could face consequences.

In addition to Fugee and Prosecutor John Molinelli, the archdiocese’s vicar general signed the agreement on behalf of Myers, pledging to abide by the restrictions on Fugee’s ministry.
The document states explicitly that Fugee may not have unsupervised contact with children, minister to children 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 (or Sunday school), confessions of children, youth choir, youth retreats and day care," the agreement says.

Myers’ spokesman, Jim Goodness, said the archbishop and Fugee were unavailable for comment.

But Goodness denied the agreement had been breached, saying the archdiocese has interpreted the document to mean Fugee could work with minors as long as he is under the supervision of priests or lay ministers who have knowledge of his past and of the conditions in the agreement.

"We believe that the archdiocese and Father Fugee have adhered to the stipulations in all of his activities, and will continue to do so," Goodness said.

Even if Fugee heard private confessions from minors, those supervising Fugee were always nearby, Goodness said.

"The fact is, he has done nothing wrong," the spokesman said. "Nobody has reported any activity that is inappropriate, and I think that’s important to know, especially given that he’s a figure whose name is public and whose past is public."

Again, hard enough for me to wrap my brain around the fact that Father Fugee is still serving as a priest.

However, he signed an agreement saying he was to have no contact with children in any of the above mentioned settings.

Would you, knowing of the priest’s past, still be able to trust him around your children?

Even with other adults present?

Seeing is how he’s playing fast and loose with the agreement he signed; should he still be allowed to serve as a priest?

And should the Archbishop of Newark be held accountable as well?

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