What are they thinking over at archdiocesan headquarters in Newark?
In last Thursday’s self-exculpatory announcement of the departure of Fr. Michael Fugee from the “public exercise of priestly ministry,” they assert:
Following the Memorandum of Understanding, the Archdiocese did not assign Fr. Fugee to any post involving ministry with minors. His assignments were supervised administrative positions located at the Archdiocesan Center in Newark.
That’s not true. As was reported four years ago, and recalled in the Star-Ledger‘s stories about Fugee’s recent employment with parish youth groups, after his term of probation was over in 2009, Fugee was assigned as a chaplain to St. Michael’s Medical Center, over a mile away from the Center.
This untruth comes in the wake of the archdiocese’s turnaround on the issue of whether, according the memorandum of understanding negotiated with the Bergen County prosecutor’s office, Fugee was permitted to engage in supervised ministry of, and work with, children. When the Star-Ledger‘s Mark Mueller reported two weeks ago that Fugee was indeed doing ministry with minors, the archdiocese said that he was. Last week, they confessed that he wasn’t.
Yesterday, meanwhile, Mueller reported that Fugee had been engaged in youth ministry at a parish in Nutley. This time, Mueller could elicit no comment from Archbishop John J. Myers’ spokesman, Jim Goodness. Which, I suppose, is a step forward for the archdiocese.
By contrast — and the contrast could not have been more pointed — the Bishop of Trenton, David O’Connell, sent a letter to his priests informing them in no uncertain terms what was being done to those responsible for inviting Fugee to engage in youth ministry in his diocese, and why it was being done.
No letter of suitability was sought or obtained and, consequently, the Diocese of Trenton had no knowledge of his presence or ministry there. This was a terrible lapse of judgment on the part of those who extended the invitation, resulting in unrelenting media scrutiny and much anger within the parish and beyond.
The work of the youth ministers at St. Mary’s Parish in Colts Neck has been terminated and Father Tom Triggs has offered his resignation as pastor to me this morning in a meeting I had with him at the parish…
This whole unfortunate episode has underscored the importance of following our own established policies and procedures, especially those designed to protect children and young people. There are few goals as important as protecting children and young people within the Diocese and we all need to do everything within our power to do just that.
The point here that established policies and procedures are not, in themselves, enough. They’ve got to be enforced, and if they are not enforced, then those responsible for enforcing them have to be held responsible.
Recently, Pope Francis met with the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which has responsibility for cases of clerical abuse, and (according to a statement) urged the CDF to “act decisively as far as cases of sexual abuse are concerned, promoting, above all, measures to protect minors, help for those who have suffered such violence in the past (and) the necessary procedures against those who are guilty.” Only if “those who are guilty” includes those who are guilty of covering up and enabling abuse, and who ignore the directives of civil authorities, can such a statement be considered adequate to the task at hand.