NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) — A priest of the Archdiocese of Newark resigned from active ministry May 2 after reports surfaced of his being with minors in apparent violation of a court’s memorandum of understanding that forbids him from contact with underage people.
The resignation of Father Michael Fugee, 53, was accepted by Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark. Calls have continued for Archbishop Myers to resign for having allowed Father Fugee to return to active ministry in 2009 despite his past.
Father Fugee had been 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 memo of understanding calls 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.
Archbishop Myers 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 Newark archdiocese had said Father Fugee was working under supervision, it later acknowledged the priest had not asked permission to be part of the retreats.
Even before Father Fugee resigned, Bishop David M. O’Connell of Trenton barred him from any future activities in that diocese, according to the Bergen County Record.
Under the terms of the resignation, archdiocesan spokesman Jim Goodness told the Star-Ledger, Father Fugee no longer has authority to celebrate Mass, perform sacramental ministry or represent himself as an active priest.
The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation after the Star-Ledger alerted the agency. Assistant Prosecutor Demetra Maurice, who authored the agreement, told the newspaper that Father Fugee could face civil penalties, criminal charges or both.
Among those calling for Archbishop Myers to resign were state Sen. Barbara Buono, a Democrat, considered a potential candidate for New Jersey governor, and Mark Crawford, New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.