NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) — Vatican officials laicized a New Jersey priest who violated a 2007 court memorandum of understanding that prohibited unsupervised contact with minors.
Michael Fugee, 53, is no longer a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, said James Goodness, archdiocesan communications director.
"There is no connection with the archdiocese any longer," Goodness told Catholic News Service March 18.
The notification releasing Fugee from the priesthood arrived in February, he said.
The Vatican action came three months after prosecutors said they would not pursue charges against Fugee stemming from the violation of the memorandum if he sought laicization.
Fugee was ordained to the priesthood for the archdiocese in 1994.
He resigned from active ministry May 2, 2013, after reports surfaced that he was with minors in an apparent violation of the memorandum prohibiting such contact. He was arrested May 20 of that year for violating the conditions laid out in the agreement, which also was approved by the archdiocese.
Prosecutors said investigators found Fugee had violated the order by attending youth retreats and hearing minors’ confessions on seven separate occasions between April 2010 and December 2012.
Newark Archbishop John J. Myers said after the arrest that he was unaware that Fugee was working with youth.
The archbishop allowed Fugee to return to active ministry in 2009 despite his past. The former priest subsequently was appointed as co-director of the archdiocese’s Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests in October 2012. He also celebrated Mass at parishes around the diocese, filling in for priests on vacation or who were ill.
When photos surfaced showing Fugee on several retreats with teenagers, the archdiocese said he was working under supervision, but acknowledged the then-priest had not asked permission to be part of the retreats.
The memorandum of understanding was developed after a criminal trial in 2003 in Bergen County Superior Court in which Fugee was convicted by a jury of sexual assault by sexual contact. Fugee’s attorney appealed the conviction and an appellate court upheld the appeal on grounds that the superior court judge in the case improperly instructed the jury.
The reversal also meant that Fugee did not have to register as a sex offender.
Rather than take the case to trial a second time, prosecutors allowed Fugee to enter a pretrial intervention program for first offenders. Prosecutors also sought the memorandum, which required Fugee to undergo counseling for sex offenders and to have no unsupervised contact with children as long as he was a priest.
Mark Crawford, New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, told CNS the removal of Fugee from the priesthood was long overdue.
"I’m very disappointed it took this long. According to the (U.S. bishops’) charter (governing the actions of dioceses in abuse cases), it should have happened years ago," Crawford said.
He added that he was satisfied that under the agreement between Fugee and prosecutors the former priest will continue to be supervised by mental health workers.
"There are professionals involved. We trust that he will be monitored. We are pleased that that is the case," he said.
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