Resigned priest jailed for violating order barring contact with minors

May 22, 2013

By Catholic News Service

NEWARK, N.J. - Father Michael Fugee, a priest of the Newark Archdiocese who recently resigned from active ministry, was arrested late May 20 on charges of violating a court’s “memorandum of understanding” that forbids him from contact with minors.

The priest, 52, resigned May 2 after reports surfaced about his being with minors in an apparent violation of the court order.

A May 21 statement from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office said he was arrested after an investigation by that office’s Special Victims Unit confirmed Father Fugee had disobeyed a July 16, 2007, judicial order and an “accompanying memorandum of understanding by and between the Archdiocese of Newark.

Prosecutors said investigators found he had violated the order by attending different youth retreats and hearing minors’ confessions on seven separate occasions between April 2010 and December 2012.

Father Fugee was being held at the Bergen County Jail, with bail set at $25,000. The priest, who was charged with seven counts of judicial contempt, made a brief appearance in court in Hackensack the morning after his arrest. New reports said he made no comments and was emotionless as the charges against him were read.

“We take these allegations seriously and will cooperate fully with law enforcement in its investigation,” James Goodness, Newark archdiocesan communications director, said in a May 21 statement. “When the archdiocese learned of Father Fugee’s violation of certain of its protocols during his off-hours, he was informed there would be significant consequences. Nothing is more sacred than the welfare of our children.

“We are in the process of taking steps to ensure that, as much as humanly possible, this type of thing cannot happen again,” Goodness said.

Father Fugee was convicted in 2003 of criminal sexual contact. He was accused of inappropriate contact with a boy four times in 1999 and 2000 while engaging in wrestling sessions in the boy’s home.

The priest appealed the conviction, saying he had lied to investigators about inappropriately touching the teen in order to return home more quickly. The conviction was vacated on other grounds, but the memorandum of understanding called for Father Fugee not to have any unsupervised contact with children as long as he remained a priest. The memorandum arose from a court-ordered sex offender program he underwent to avoid retrial.

On May 2, Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark accepted Father Fugee’s resignation. In his letter of resignation the priest said that “for the good of the church and for my peace, I have requested permission to leave public exercise of my priestly ministry.”

“In conscience, I feel it necessary to make clear to all that my actions described in recent news stories were outside of my assigned ministry within the archdiocese. The leadership of the Archdiocese of Newark, especially Archbishop John Myers, did not know or approve of my actions. My failure to request the required permissions to engage in those ministry activities is my fault, my fault alone.”

Calls have continued for Archbishop Myers to resign for having allowed Father Fugee to return to active ministry in 2009 despite his past.

The archbishop appointed Father Fugee last October as co-director of the archdiocese’s Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests, which sparked criticism from advocates for victims of clerical sexual abuse. Archbishop Myers had earlier appointed Father Fugee as director of the Office of the Propagation of the Faith, a position he also held until his resignation.

But when the Newark Star-Ledger in April unearthed evidence that showed Father Fugee in apparent violation of the memorandum, the controversy was generated anew, leading to the priest’s resignation. Photos surfaced showing Father Fugee on several retreats with teenagers.

While the archdiocese had said Father Fugee was working under supervision, it later acknowledged the priest had not asked permission to be part of the retreats.

“The activities written about in recent news stories were not part of his assigned ministry. Had the archdiocese known about them at the time, permission to undertake them would not have been granted,” said a May 3 statement from the archdiocese.

Under the terms of Father Fugee’s resignation, the archdiocese said, the priest no longer has authority to celebrate Mass, perform sacramental ministry or represent himself as an active priest.

Copyright (c) 2013 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops