Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli today accused the Archdiocese of Newark of not keeping its agreement to monitor a former Wykoff associate pastor who was allowed to continue working as a priest after admitting that he groped a 13-year-old boy.
The prosecutor’s comments come amid the announcement of an agreement between his office and Michael Fugee that spares him prison time in exchange for his permanent removal from the priesthood and the condition that he never work in a job that puts him in contact with minors. That means he can’t become a teacher, a coach or a counselor, nor can he characterize himself as a “man of God,” Molinelli said.
Fugee, who could have gone to prison for up to 18 months, admitted that he repeatedly violated a court order to stay away from children.
Also going back on its word, Molinelli said, was the archiocese, which agreed six years ago to supervise Fugee in order to help spare him a trial.
“[I]t has not appeared that the Archdiocese made any significant effort to adhere to the terms of the MOU such that, at this juncture, we no longer have confidence in its ability as a signatory to honor the clear intent of the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding,” Mollinelli said in a statement.
Molinelli pointed to statements by Archbishop John Myers that he said indicated the Church’s intentions to ignore the MOU.
A spokesman for the archdiocese, Jim Goodness, blamed Molinelli for Fugee’s transgressions by allowing him to remain free under the conditions of the memorandum.
“The Archdiocese has publicly acknowledged operational failures in the Fugee matter,” Goodness said in a statement. “However, it is hypocritical to single out the Archdiocese as being solely responsible.
“Responsibility lies with numerous parties, including the [Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office],” he said. “It was not the archdiocese that sought to have the criminal charges against Fugee dismissed; it was the BCPO.
“Archbishop Myers has stated categorically that the primary responsibilities of the Archdiocese are to protect children and young people, and to promote the healing of, and provide compassion to, victims of abuse,” Goodness said.
The Star-Ledger revealed in April that Fugee, a former associate pastor at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church, was attending youth retreats and hearing confessions from minors, in violation of the consent order, between April 2010 and December of last year.
Two of the confessions were heard at Sacred Heart Parish in Rochelle Park, where church authorities let Fugee live in the rectory, and an undetermined number at Our Lady of Visitation Church in Paramus, Molinelli said, the prosecutor said.
The newspaper also found that the archdiocese did little or nothing to monitor him. The stories sparked an investigation by Molinelli’s office.
The prosecutor emphasized today that the justice system couldn’t have forced Fugee’s defrocking if he’d been convicted.
However, the agreement reached with him last Friday now permanently removes Fugee from the church and leaves his future in the hands of state authorities, who could have him jailed if he violates any part of it.
This, the prosecutor said, “will eliminate the threat of Michael Fugee, ever again, obtaining the trust of people through his clerical position nor using his ordained position as a Priest to exert improper contact with children.”
The agreement “bars Michael Fugee from holding himself out as a current or former priest or spiritual advisor,” the prosecutor added. “Most importantly, he is prohibited from working with children in any capacity.”
As part of the deal, Fugee dropped his contention that his 2001 confession was coerced by police and said it was “freely and truthfully given.”
Fugee must supply the prosecutor’s office with the names and phone numbers of any employers, to whom he must show a copy of the agreement.
PHOTO: Courtesy Nj.com
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