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Newark priest, once convicted of molesting, still worked with children, newspaper reports

Catholic World News - April 29, 2013

A New Jersey priest who was once convicted of molesting a young boy has been given pastoral assignments in which he had access to children, according to a report by the Newark Star-Ledger.

If accurate, the report suggests that the Archdiocese of Newark has violated both an agreement with prosecutors and the terms of the US bishops’ Dallas Charter.

Father Michael Fugee was convicted in 2003 of sexual contact with minors. The conviction was later overturned by an appeals court, which ruled that some evidence had been improperly introduced at the trial. Father Fugee had once confessed to the crime, but later recanted his confession. Rather than submit to a new trial, he entered an agreement with prosecutors, stipulating that he would not work with young people, attend youth retreats, or hear the confessions of young people. The Newark archdiocese also agreed to these conditions.

Now the Star-Ledger reports that Father Fugee has in fact done parish work with young people, attended youth retreats, and heard the confessions of young people— all in violation of the agreement with prosecutors. “What’s more, he has done so with the approval of New Jersey’s highest-ranking Catholic official, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers,” the paper notes.

Earlier this year, the Star-Ledger gave prominent coverage to complaints by sex-abuse victims when Archbishop Myers appointed Father Fugee as co-director of the Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests in the Newark archdiocese. (The paper described the assignment, rather inaccurately, as a "high-profile position.") At the time, the Newark archdiocese expressed full confidence in the priest, while at the same time saying that Father Fugee would not have any contact with young people.

Father Fugee could face criminal charges for violating the terms of his agreement with prosecutors. It is not clear whether the Newark archdiocese could also face legal consequences. An editorial in the Star-Ledger called for the archbishop’s resignation, saying that “it is beyond infuriating” to find that a Catholic prelate has shown “a pattern of leniency toward pedophiles, indifference to potential victims, and a haughty disdain for those who dare to question his judgment.”

(In February, Phil Lawler commented that the insensitivity of Archbishop Myers “vividly illustrates that the policies put in place by the Dallas Charter provide no reassurance at all to the faithful, if the policy-makers do not prove themselves trustworthy.”)

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