Tuesday May 7, 2013, 7:04 AM
BY JEFF GREEN
Parishioners of a Nutley church are confronting questions about a priest’s involvement with its youth programs even though he was banned from working with children, at the same time a Monmouth County church is recovering from three resignations following a scandal involving the same priest.
The pastor of Holy Family Church in Nutley, Monsignor Paul Bochicchio, told reporters that the Rev. Michael Fugee gave talks to his parish’s youth group and went with them on trips to Canada, even though Fugee had signed an agreement with prosecutors strictly prohibiting such activities.
Fugee was convicted in 2003 of aggravated criminal sexual contact after being charged with groping a 13-year-old boy while he was assistant pastor of St. Elizabeth’s of Hungary Church in Wyckoff. The conviction was overturned on a technicality, but to avoid a second trial, Fugee agreed to never supervise or minister to children, and to stay away from youth groups, in an agreement signed by the Newark Archdiocese and the Bergen County prosecutor.
Lynn Falduto, secretary of the Nutley parish, defended her pastor and Fugee, saying he was only with the youth group when parents and other adults were present. Bochicchio also had said the supervision of Fugee should have satisfied the terms of his agreement with the Prosecutor’s Office.
Falduto said the only time she remembered seeing Fugee was when he went on extended pilgrimages to Canada with the group, an activity the archdiocese has said he was involved with for decades. Falduto said she doesn’t want to see Bochicchio become the next person to lose his position over the disclosures.
“That’s too bad, I hope not,” she said of his potential resignation.
Last week, it was revealed Fugee heard the confessions of children on youth retreats with the St. Mary’s parish in Colts Neck, in apparent disregard of his agreement with prosecutors. A new investigation into whether he violated the pact continued Monday.
Fugee resigned Thursday from the ministry and two office positions he held in the archdiocese.
The Rev. Thomas Triggs, who attended some of the youth retreats with Fugee, resigned as pastor of St. Mary’s on Saturday and accepted the resignations of the parish’s two youth ministers.
Jim Goodness, spokesman for Archbishop John J. Myers, would not confirm the reports of Fugee’s involvement at the Nutley parish on Monday. Bochicchio, reached on Monday, declined further comment.
Goodness also refused to discuss whether the archbishop would ask Bochicchio to resign, calling it a personnel issue. He said the archdiocese is cooperating with the prosecutor’s inquiry.
Victims’ advocate Mark Crawford said if Bochicchio was aware of Fugee’s restrictions working with youth, then “there needs to be accountability.”
“You can’t just hide these things,” said Crawford, the New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Crawford added that Fugee’s involvement in the Nutley parish, which is within the archdiocese, is further evidence that the archbishop knew about his activities or should have known. All of the clergy within the archdiocese should have been made aware of Fugee’s past, he said.
Myers, who returned Fugee to the ministry in 2009 after he completed probation, has said through his spokesman that the archdiocese was never aware of Fugee’s activities in Monmouth County and did not permit them.
The revelations about Fugee’s activities with youth ministry sparked calls for an investigation of the archdiocese by victims’ advocates. Barbara Buono, the leading Democratic contender for governor, demanded that Myers resign.
Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli could not be reached for comment Monday.
Fugee, who also could not be reached, said in his resignation letter that his actions were his fault alone, admitting that they fell outside of the agreement.
His attorney, Michael D’Alessio, could not be reached.