NJ archbishop wary of pacts on priest oversight

AP News
Posted: Jun 25, 2013 4:40 PM

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The Roman Catholic archdiocese of Newark is unlikely to enter into any new agreements with civil authorities that require church leaders to supervise priests on restricted duty, the archbishop said.

Rather than oversee a priest who had a case in the legal system, the archdiocese would tell him to "go back for a second trial and clear your name," Archbishop John J. Myers told the National Catholic Register in an interview released Tuesday.

"The state has more resources," he added.

Myers has been under fire for how the archdiocese handled the case of the Rev. Michael Fugee, a priest who violated an agreement between the church and the Bergen County prosecutor's office.

The accord allowed Fugee to return to ministry, but it barred him from having unsupervised contact with minors or a job that required him to oversee or minister to children under 18. The archdiocese and the prosecutor's office signed the deal in 2007 after Fugee's conviction on charges of aggravated criminal sexual contact were thrown out on appeal.

Fugee confessed to police that during a vacation with a parishioner and her son, he wrestled with the boy and "grabbed his crotch." At his trial, lawyers argued his confession was coerced.

Despite the agreement, Fugee became a fixture at a youth ministry in Colts Neck, went on overnight trips with the group and heard confession from teenagers.

Myers said archdiocesan officials did not know Fugee was working with children, and he did not request permission to minister in other dioceses.

Fugee resigned from the ministry in May and cannot present himself as a priest, though he remains one. Prosecutors have charged him with seven counts of violating a judicial order.

A spokeswoman for the Bergen County prosecutor's office did not return a request for comment.

In the interview, Myers defended the decision to allow Fugee back into ministry after an archdiocesan review board cleared him to do so. He said Fugee claimed in court the confession was written "by mistake" and he denied "any wrongdoing several times."

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Myers said there are "more grays than black and white," in Fugee's case.

"What I don't think we will do again is enter into an agreement with a civil authority that gives the supervisory function to the archdiocese," he said. "We would not enter into a memorandum of understanding that places a burden on the church."

Myers also said he and other bishops discussed that supervising accused priests is "a problem" under the bishops' child protection policy, formally known as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

"What if a priest moves to Florida? How do we supervise them?" he asked.

Myers said Fugee is currently living at a rectory. About 16 or 17 priests are currently under supervision in the diocese, Myers said.