Six years ago, to avoid retrial on charges that he groped a teenage boy, the Rev. Michael Fugee entered a rehabilitation program, underwent counseling for sex offenders and signed a binding agreement that would dictate the remainder of his life as a Roman Catholic priest.In the same story, the Archdiocese is quoted as defending these actions, not contesting them, on the ground that "the archdiocese has interpreted the document to mean Fugee could work with minors as long as he is under the supervision of priests or lay ministers who have knowledge of his past and of the conditions in the agreement. 'We believe that the archdiocese and Father Fugee have adhered to the stipulations in all of his activities, and will continue to do so,' [spokesman Jim] Goodness said."
Fugee would not work in any position involving children, the agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office states. He would have no affiliation with youth groups. He would not attend youth retreats. He would not hear the confessions of minors.
But Fugee has openly done all of those things for the past several years through an unofficial association with a Monmouth County church, St. Mary’s Parish in Colts Neck, The Star-Ledger found.
He has attended weekend youth retreats in Marlboro and on the shores of Lake Hopatcong in Mount Arlington, parishioners say. Fugee also has traveled with members of the St. Mary’s youth group on an annual pilgrimage to Canada. At all three locations, he has heard confessions from minors behind closed doors.
What’s more, he has done so with the approval of New Jersey’s highest-ranking Catholic official, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers.
Now, a couple of facts. First, Father Fugee in the course of questioning confessed to the crime, and the voluntariness and accuracy of the confession have not been questioned by either the Archdiocese, Myers, or Fugee himself.
The plea agreement between the District Attorney's office, Fugee and the Archdiocese recites, that the Appellate Division reversed Fugee's conviction and remanded for a new trial because "the jury instructions authored by the trial court failed to provide adequate guidance on the issue of defendant's supervisory authority."
As to the obligations under the agreement, the agreement itself provides in (as we lawyers like to say) pertinent part:
...[A]s part of his employment/vocation with the Roman Catholic Church, [Fugee] shall not have any unsupervised contact with or any duties that call for the supervision/ministry of any child or children under the age of 18.The use of the disjunctive "or" makes clear that the "unsupervised contact" provision does not modify the following stipulations, and that the Archdiocese's reading of the Agreement is simply untenable. Understandably, the Newark Star-Ledger has called for Myers' resignation.
Article 4 It is agreed and understood that the Archdiocese shall not assign or or otherwise place Michael Fugee in any position within the Archdiocese that allows him to have any unsupervised contact with or to supervise or to minister to any minor child or children under the age of 18 or work in any position in which children are involved. This includes, but is not limited to, presiding over a parish, involvement with a youth group, religious education/parochial school, CCD, confessions of children, youth choir, youth retreats and day care.
It is agreed and understood that Michael Fugee shall not accept any position within the Archdiocese of Newark or any other Archdiocese under which he is assigned or or otherwise placed Michael Fugee that allows him to have any unsupervised contact with or to supervise or to minister to any minor child or children under the age of 18 or work in any position in which children are involved. This includes, but is not limited to, presiding over a parish, involvement with a youth group, religious education/parochial school, CCD, confessions of children, youth choir, youth retreats and day care.
In a "special report", the increasingly mis-named Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, per William Donohue, attacks the Star Ledger for this:
The editorial board intentionally distorted the agreement so it could make its case to hound Archbishop Myers out of office. It also smeared Fugee by suggesting that children are not safe in his company. Here is exactly what the agreement said:Note what Donohue has done? He has accurately quoted a snippet of the language, but stopped after the language he believes he can distort to exonerate the Archdiocese--that is, the specific examples in the explicitly non-exhaustive list, several of which (youth retreats, hearing confessions) the reports indicate Fugee has violated, and has further hoped that the reader who wants to believe that the Archbishop and Archdiocese is being smeared will miss that disjunctive "or." And since Donohue has not provided a link, and has himself omitted the adumbration of specific examples that are barred, the reader will miss those unless she goes looking.
“It is agreed and understood that the Archdiocese shall not assign or otherwise place Michael Fugee in any position within the Archdiocese that allows him to have any unsupervised contact with or to supervise or minister to any minor/child under the age of 18 or work in any position in which children are involved.” (My italics.) [Note: In the next paragraph, the identical language is used to hold Father Fugee to these terms.]
In other words, the court agreement expressly allowed Father Fugee to have contact with minors, provided he was supervised. Nothing in either the news story or the editorial even suggests that Fugee was at any time unsupervised in his contacts with minors. If the Star-Ledger had such evidence, it would have said so.
Now, all of a sudden, the plain words of the agreement are seen as open to interpretation. But if the agreement says Fugee was not supposed to have unsupervised contact, what other plausible interpretation is there? The newspaper would have the reader believe that the agreement is ambiguous about this condition, when, of course, it is not.
It's our old friends, suppressio veri, suggestio falsi come to pay a call, isn't it? Donohue is so wedded to his vision of "my tribe, right or wrong" that he will distort, and outright lie while claiming those who are telling the truth are slandering a good man out of anti-Catholic bias. (Donohue stresses that the church court under canon law has acquitted Fugee, a fact that seems wildly improbable in view of the, y'know, confession, but which, if true, stresses the need for secular law enforcement to not allow canon law to stand in for it all the more.)
Apparently Donohue is getting some blowback on this story; he has added a follow up in which he responds to some critics by claiming that the Star-Ledger's coverage was a "contrived story emanating from a foe of the Catholic Church" since Fugee has not been accused of having reoffended. He also writes that
Some are saying that Fugee’s legal status is conditioned on a technicality that allowed him to return to ministry. Let me make this clear: If accused Muslim terrorists, who seek to kill as many innocent Americans as they can, are given (free of charge) attorneys prepared to exploit every legal loophole there is, then I want priests to be afforded the same measures.This is a very helpful statement, in that it clarifies two facets of Donohue's thinking. First, he's not at all interested in protecting the children of Catholic parents; he's interested only in the priests and the hierarchy. Second, he believes that the word of the Catholic Church to secular law enforcement can be broken with impunity, and that a pettifogging legalism is a morally justified response to public criticism of the Church's betrayal of its own undertakings.
After all, it's ok when terrorists do it, so why shouldn't "the one true faith"?