Priest admits violating ban on ministry to children, says actions are ‘my fault alone’
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on May 04, 2013 at 6:45 AM, updated May 04, 2013 at 9:30 AM
Asserting his actions were “my fault alone,” the Roman Catholic priest who violated a court-sanctioned agreement to stay away from children wrote in his resignation letter that he attended youth retreats and heard confessions from minors without the knowledge of his superiors in the Archdiocese of Newark.
The Rev. Michael Fugee — who was removed from ministry Thursday, four days after The Star-Ledger disclosed his association with a Monmouth County youth group — specifically noted in the letter that Archbishop John J. Myers did not grant him permission to minister to children.
“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,” Fugee wrote. “… My failure to request the required permissions to engage in those ministry activities is my fault, my fault alone.”
The archdiocese released the full text of Fugee’s letter yesterday in an apparent effort to quell a public uproar over Myers’ handling of the priest, who signed the agreement with law enforcement in 2007 to avoid retrial on charges he fondled a teenage boy.
For days after The Star-Ledger’s report, a spokesman for the archbishop insisted Fugee’s interactions with children were within the scope of the agreement, arguing he was under the supervision of lay ministers and other priests.
But amid mounting public pressure, calls by elected officials for Myers to resign and a criminal investigation by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, the archdiocese reversed course Thursday, acknowledging Fugee violated the agreement and saying he acted alone.
Myers’ spokesman, Jim Goodness, reiterated that stance in a statement yesterday.
“The archdiocese only learned about two weeks ago when approached by a reporter that Fr. Fugee had engaged in other activities or ministries,” Goodness said. “Had the archdiocese known about them at the time, permission to undertake them would not have been granted.”
Myers immediately approved Fugee’s request to leave ministry Thursday. Fugee remains a priest of the archdiocese but may not wear clerical clothing, say Mass or engage in other sacramental activities.
It was unclear if he or Myers will move for laicization, the process through which one is removed from the priesthood altogether. Beyond the statement he issued, Goodness declined to answer questions yesterday.
In his letter to Myers, Fugee requested removal from ministry “for the good of the church and for my peace.” He also offered an apology.
“I am sorry that my actions have caused pain to my church and to her people,” he wrote.
For the past several years, Fugee has openly been involved with the youth group at St. Mary’s Church in Colts Neck, where he is longtime friends with the youth ministers.
Fugee, 52, has attended youth retreats at the Kateri Environmental Center in Marlboro and at a sprawling home owned by an order of nuns along Lake Hopatcong, both in other dioceses. The bishops of Trenton and Paterson have since said Fugee did not request the required permission before working in their dioceses.
Fugee also traveled several times with members of the St. Mary’s youth group on an annual pilgrimage to St. Anne Beaupre, a shrine in Quebec.
Members of St. Mary’s parish have expressed outrage, saying they were not told about the restrictions on Fugee’s ministry or about his 2003 conviction on a charge of aggravated criminal sexual contact. An appeals court overturned the verdict in 2006, ruling jurors should not have been told that Fugee questioned his sexual identity.
The controversy was the subject of a parish-wide meeting at the church last night.
For years, Myers has faced criticism for his handling of Fugee, whom he has characterized as a victim in the criminal case. In correspondence with priests of the archdiocese, he referred to the criminal case as an “acquittal” despite the fact Fugee entered a rehabilitation program and underwent counseling for sex offenders.
Several years ago, he named Fugee director of the Office of the Propagation of the Faith, a fundraising position to support missionary work. Then late last year, the archbishop appointed him co-director of the Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests, drawing anger from advocates for victims of sexual abuse and Fugee’s alleged victim, who complained the priest’s past had been “swept under the rug.”