on May 24, 2013 at 8:21 PM, updated May 24, 2013 at 8:53 PM
Newark Archbishop John J. Myers (Aristide Economopoulos/The Star-Ledger)
A top official in the Archdiocese of Newark — second only to Archbishop John J. Myers — has been sacked from his leadership position for mishandling the supervision of a priest who violated a lifetime ban on ministry to children.
Myers, speaking out for the first time on the scandal that has imperiled his future in Newark, described the removal of Monsignor John E. Doran as one step in a series of reforms meant to “strengthen internal protocols” and “ensure we are doing everything we can to safeguard the children of our community.”
Myers made the announcement in an opinion piece scheduled to run in Saturday’s Star-Ledger. An abbreviated version of the letter is to be read aloud at parishes in the archdiocese Saturday and Sunday.
Doran, who served as vicar general and moderator of the curia, is among the highest-ranking Roman Catholic officials in the country to be demoted over the handling of a priest accused of sexual abuse, observers say.
“This is a very significant decision,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst with the National Catholic Reporter and a former editor of America, a Catholic magazine. “Short of being a bishop, vicar general and moderator of the curia is as high as you can get.”
Doran is the archdiocese official who signed an agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office in 2007, pledging to supervise the Rev. Michael Fugee, who had confessed to police that he groped a teenage boy years earlier.
The agreement banned Fugee from ministering to children for as long as he remained a priest. Yet Fugee blatantly disregarded those terms, attending youth retreats and hearing confessions from minors in parishes in and out of the archdiocese, The Star-Ledger reported late last month.
Earlier this week, Fugee was criminally charged with contempt of a judicial order for violating the agreement. He has since been freed on bail.
Through his spokesman, Myers at first defended Fugee’s interactions with children, saying that because he was supervised by other adults, he had not breached the agreement. Days later, he said Fugee had acted without his knowledge.
The case has led to national condemnation and repeated calls for the archbishop’s resignation.
In the opinion piece, Myers reiterated he did not know about Fugee’s travels and immediately ordered an investigation by an outside law firm when he learned of them.
“The investigation uncovered certain operational vulnerabilities in our own systems,” Myers wrote. “We found that the strong protocols presently in place were not always observed.”
He did not elaborate on the vulnerabilities but seemed to lay responsibility for the failure to monitor Fugee squarely on the shoulders of Doran.
“As a result of operational failures, both Msgr. Doran and I felt that the archdiocese would be best served by his stepping down as vicar general,” Myers wrote, characterizing the removal as a resignation. “This action clears the way for making more effective changes in our monitoring function.”
The job of monitoring priests, Myers added, would be shifted to the archdiocese’s judicial vicar, the Rev. Robert G. McBride.
Doran, a Jersey City native who previously served as pastor at St. Cassian Church in Montclair, is the latest in a string of priests and lay people to lose their jobs as the fallout from the Fugee scandal spreads.
The Rev. Thomas Triggs, the pastor of the Colts Neck church where Fugee attended youth retreats, resigned under pressure from Trenton Bishop David M. O’Connell earlier this month. The church’s two youth ministers, longtime friends of Fugee, also were forced out. The parish, St. Mary’s, is in the Diocese of Trenton.
Fugee was granted a leave from ministry May 2, though he remains a priest.
Fugee, 52, was convicted of the groping charges in 2003, but the verdict was later overturned because of judicial error. To avoid retrial, he entered a state rehabilitation program, underwent counseling for sex offenders and, by means of the agreement with prosecutors, promised to stay away from children.
The Star-Ledger found the archdiocese did little or no monitoring of him since signing the agreement. His attendance at youth retreats was out in the open, with photos publicly displayed on Facebook. In almost all cases, parishioners said they did not know of his background.
Myers offered no apology for the handling of Fugee, allowing only that “strong” policies and procedures were apparently not strong enough.
“Regrettably,” he wrote, “Fr. Fugee’s situation has demonstrated that our system was not perfect. Accordingly we must identify the flaws and fix them.”
To avoid similar lapses, he said, the archdiocese would review and, where appropriate, strengthen procedures.
Without going into detail, he said he would be expanding training programs that help clergy and lay people alike recognize signs of abuse and show people how to report suspected abuse.
He reiterated that priests and deacons who minister elsewhere must first obtain permission from the dioceses they are visiting. Fugee did not.
Myers also said he would appoint a special adviser to the Archdiocesan Review Board, the body that investigates whether allegations of sexual abuse are credible. Such panels are composed mainly of lay volunteers.
Newark’s board has come under sharp criticism in recent weeks for its recommendation six years ago that Fugee be returned to ministry despite his police confession, in which he admitted he experienced a sexual thrill by touching the teenage boy’s genitals during wrestling matches. Myers made the final decision on Fugee’s reinstatement.
Asked if the appointment of a new adviser to the board suggested a reassessment of the decision to return Fugee to ministry, Myers’ spokesman, Jim Goodness, said it did not.
The board, whose members are not made public, once had a retired New Jersey judge as an adviser, Goodness said. That official has since died, he said. The spokesman did not say who will fill the position.
“We’re looking for someone who can be a sounding board on particular issues,” Goodness said. “We’re not looking for someone to take control of the board.”
Myers said he additionally would devote more resources to the review board. He did not elaborate.
Throughout his 12 years in Newark and in his previous post as Bishop of Peoria, Myers has faced periodic criticism for his handling of priests accused of abuse.
He sought to counter that view in his opinion piece, saying the archdiocese has an “exemplary record” of addressing allegations against clergy. He said he had personally removed from ministry 19 priests after allegations of abuse were substantiated.
But he would not name those priests, some of whom have been identified in press reports over the years. Goodness, the spokesman, said individual parishes are notified when priests are removed amid allegations of sexual abuse.
To some critics, Myers’ actions, including the removal of Doran, did not go far enough.
David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national advocacy group, repeated his demand today that Myers resign.
“Myers keeps making grudging, belated public relations moves and calling them ‘reform,’” Clohessy said in a statement. “That won’t cut it.”
Newark vicar general quits in wake of mismanaged abuse case
The National Catholic Reporter
May. 24, 2013
Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark, N.J., speaks from the floor as the U.S. bishops conduct their annual fall meeting Nov. 13 in Baltimore. (CNS/Nancy Phelan Wiechec)
The vicar general of the Newark, N.J., archdiocese is resigning effective immediately “as a result of operational failures” stemming from the case of a Newark priest who was ministering to youth in violation of a court agreement banning him from such ministry, a letter signed by the Newark archbishop says.
The letter obtained by NCR Friday evening is signed by Archbishop John J. Myers of Newark. It says that when Myers “learned several weeks ago that Father Michael Fugee may have violated a lifetime ban on ministry to minors, I [Myers] immediately ordered an outside law firm to conduct a full and thorough investigation of the matter and to cooperate with the Bergen County Prosecutor in all areas.”
“The investigation found that the strong protocols we presently have in place [to handle accusations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy] were not always observed,” the letter reads.
Fugee was arrested May 20 for violating a court agreement not to minister to children. In July 2007, Fugee, his lawyer, the Bergen County prosecutor and the Newark vicar general, Msgr. John Doran, signed a memorandum of understanding that restricted the priest from “any unsupervised contact with or to supervise or minister to any child/minor under the age of 18 or work in any position in which children are involved.”
A jury had convicted Fugee in 2003 of sexual assault of a 14-year-old boy, but an appeals court overturned that ruling in 2006 on a technicality, one unrelated to a confession from Fugee in which he admitted to intentionally groping the boy. The memorandum of understanding was signed to avoid a retrial of those charges.
Despite that agreement, the Newark Star-Ledger newspaper reported last month that in the past several years Fugee had attended youth events, such as retreats and weekend trips, and heard confessions from minors. The archdiocese had said that Fugee was assigned to administrative duties in the chancery and was supposed to be under supervision.
But who was responsible for supervising Fugee remains an unknown.
Myers had remained mum on the Fugee case until today, instead allowing his spokesman, Jim Goodness, to issue statements. But Goodness told NCR May 21 that the archbishop would break his public silence “at some point fairly soon,” and would address critics’ calls for his resignation at that time.
The letter Myers sent to pastors Friday did not address his own resignation, but it did announce the resignation of Doran.
“So, effective immediately, the Vicar General, Monsignor John E. Doran, has resigned his post and will no longer hold a leadership position with the Archdiocese. As a result of operational failures, both Monsignor Doran and I felt that the Archdiocese would be best served by his stepping down as Vicar General,” said the letter.
The letter, dated May 26 (Sunday), is to be read at weekend Masses in the archdiocese. A pastor in the archdiocese of Newark forwarded a copy of the letter to NCR.
Doran’s resignation “clears the way for making more effective changes in our monitoring function. I am transferring that function to the Office of the Judicial Vicar of the Archdiocese,” Myers states.
The letter also announces that Myers is “appointing a new special advisor to our Archdiocesan Review Board. Additionally, I have committed to provide more resources to the Review Board, an independent group of expert, and mainly lay, volunteers who help the Archdiocese and me investigate allegations of clergy sexual misconduct involving minors and recommend any action under Church law.”
“We want our procedures to be among the strictest in the Catholic Church,” Myers’ letter says.
Myers expanded on his remarks in the letter to parishioners in a guest column posted online by the Star-Ledger, the newspaper that has twice called for Myers’ resignation in the past month.
“We are not perfect. But people who suggest we have not taken seriously the oversight of our clergy and do not put the security and safety of our families and parishioners, especially our children, at the forefront of our ministry are just plain wrong,” he wrote.
In a Feb. 7 letter to his diocesan priests, made public by the Star-Ledger in April, Myers defended the archdiocese’s implementation of the charter, after local media reported in February that Fugee had been appointed co-director of the Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests.
“These claims are baseless,” the archbishop said in reference to the criticism that the appointment indicated a lax application of the Dallas Charter.
Myers went on to affirm the archdiocese’s adherence in a number of areas, including immediately reporting allegations to law enforcement; providing support to abuse victims; and its use of a review board since 1993.
“I have always felt that, as my representatives, they [the review board] have looked both carefully and compassionately at the needs and circumstances of victims of clergy sexual abuse,” he wrote to diocesan priests.
At the end of the letter, Myers defended his decision to reinstate Fugee to ministry, saying the archdiocese “followed all of these elements of the Charter and the Memorandum of Understanding in the more-than-a-decade-case involving Father Michael Fugee.”
But defense did not appease critics, many of whom pointed toward the lack of transparency in the process, such as the archdiocese’s policy to keep review board members anonymous.
In the May 26 letter to parishioners, Myers refrains from commenting on Fugee himself beyond referring to the “seriousness of the situation with Father Fugee.” He offered a stronger defense of the priest three months earlier in the letter to his priests, describing Fugee’s case status as both “acquittal and dismissal of charges.”
That description was not accurate, a spokeswoman for the Bergen County Prosecutor’s office told NCR in early May.
“He [Fugee] wasn’t acquitted. … The decision had been appealed, and it was reversed,” Maureen Parenta said. “They called for a retrial, so rather than going through another trial, our office had proposed the memo of understanding and that’s how this was resolved.”
The resignation of Doran comes as the fifth resignation this month related to the Fugee scandal. On May 2 Fugee submitted his resignation from active ministry to Myers, though he remains a priest.
Two days later, Fr. Thomas Triggs resigned as pastor of St. Mary Church in Colts Neck, N.J., part of the Trenton diocese, and one of the parishes where Fugee had ministered to children in recent years. Also resigning from the parish were Amy and Mike Lenehan, the parish’s youth ministers who invited their friend Fugee to assist with retreats and other activities.
Archdiocese of Newark Vicar General resigning in wake of Rev. Michael Fugee scandal
on May 24, 2013 at 4:33 PM, updated May 24, 2013 at 7:26 PM
Monsignor John Doran, the Vicar General for the Archdiocese of Newark, is seen in a 1997 file photo. Doran is being removed from his position in the wake of the Rev. Michael Fugee scandal. (File photo)
An Archdiocese of Newark official who was born and raised in Jersey City is resigning in the wake of the Rev. Michael Fugee scandal.
In a letter that will be read to all parishioners during this weekend’s Masses, Archbishop John J. Myers said that Monsignor John E. Doran, previously a pastor at St. Cassian in Montclair and Our Lady of Sorrows in South Orange, is stepping down as Vicar General, effective immediately.
Fugee was charged last week with violating a lifetime ban on ministry to children by working with a Monmouth County youth group. The Star-Ledger has reported that Fugee has gone on numerous retreats with children over the years since the agreement, an that the interactions were never hidden from the Archdiocese.
A jury convicted him in 2003 of aggravated criminal sexual contact, but three years later the verdict was overturned in appellate court. In that decision, the panel said that the trial judge should not have allowed jurors to hear the part of Fugee’s confession in which he questioned his sexual identity.
Fugee, 52, signed the agreement in July 2007 to avoid retrial on the groping charges. The archdiocese also signed onto the agreement, pledging to supervise the priest. Doran’s signature is on the document.
“Appointing a new Vicar General will be just one step in a comprehensive plan to review, and, where necessary, strengthen our internal protocols and ensure we are doing everything we can to safeguard the children of our community,” Myers said in the letter. “So, effective immediately, the Vicar General, Monsignor John E. Doran, has resigned his post and will no longer hold a leadership position with the Archdiocese.
“As a result of operational failures, both Monsignor Doran and I felt that the Archdiocese would be best served by his stepping down as Vicar General.”
In the wake of the Star-Ledger stories, many have called for Myers’ resignation.
In the letter to parishioners, Myers said he contacted attorneys to conduct “a full and thorough” investigation. “The investigation found that the strong protocols we
presently have in place were not always observed,” Myers says in the letter.
Myers says in the letter that the archdiocese has had an exemplary record in dealing with allegations of abuse by priests, and that changes will be made.
Among the changes, Myers says, is that the responsibility for monitoring cases such as Fugee’s will be transferred to the Office of the Judicial Vicar. Myers says he will also add a special adviser to the archdiocesan review board and commit more resources
to the “independent group of expert, and mainly lay, volunteers who help the Archdiocese and me investigate allegations of clergy sexual misconduct involving minors and recommend any action under Church law.”
Archdiocesan officials did not immediately return calls for comment and Doran could not be reached.
According to a 2002 profile in the Catholic Advocate newspaper, Doran was ordained May 27, 1972, after studies at the College Seminary at Seton Hall and Immaculate Conception Seminary.
He was named a monsignor by Pope John Paul II in 1986, the paper said.
His other assignments included Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Maplewood and the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, the paper said. He was appointed secretary to then-Archbishop Peter L. Gerety in 1978 and went on to become vice chancellor of the archdiocese and later rector of the College Seminary.
Priest charged with violating ban on ministry to children freed on bail
on May 22, 2013 at 8:04 PM, updated May 24, 2013 at 7:15 PM
The Roman Catholic priest charged with violating a ban on ministry to children was released from jail late Tuesday, less than 12 hours after making his first appearance in a Bergen County courtroom.
The Rev. Michael Fugee, 52, walked out of the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack sometime after 7 p.m. A spokesman for the county sheriff’s department, which oversees the jail, declined to say who posted Fugee’s bail, which had been set at $25,000 with a 10 percent cash option.
The Archdiocese of Newark, to which Fugee is assigned, did not secure the priest’s release, said Jim Goodness, a spokesman for Archbishop John J. Myers. Goodness would not say whether Fugee was returned to a parish or other housing owned by the archdiocese.
Fugee was required to surrender his passport as a condition of the release.
Investigators with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office arrested Fugee at a parish in Newark Monday night, charging him with seven counts of contempt of a judicial order for interacting with children despite the ban.
The restriction grew out of a 2007 agreement Fugee signed with the prosecutor’s office to avoid retrial on charges that he groped a 13-year-old boy.
Following a Star-Ledger report on the priest’s continued contact with children and teens, authorities found he gave confessions to minors at youth retreats and a private home outside the archdiocese and at two parishes inside the archdiocese, which includes Bergen, Hudson, Union and Essex counties.
Fugee’s lawyer, Michael D’Alessio, did not return calls seeking comment.
D’Alessio, who represented Fugee when he signed the agreement, told the Record newspaper the priest did not violate the terms because Fugee was under the supervision of other adults when he was with children, the same defense initially mounted by the archdiocese.
Goodness, Myers’ spokesman, later reversed that position, saying that while Fugee did violate the agreement, he did so without the archbishop’s knowledge.
“Father Fugee is not guilty of this offense,” D’Alessio told the Record.
The lawyer added that prosecutors, to win a conviction, would have to prove in court the priest “knowingly and purposefully” flouted the agreement.
“If there are other adults in the room, other adults in the vicinity, he was never in a position where he could not be observed,” D’Alessio said. “That’s the key to this, and that’s the key to what he thought.”