Beliefs Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion

The Protocols of the Clergy of Newark

FugeeEven as Newark molester-priest Michael Fugee was being arrested and arraigned on charges of criminally violating a court order barring him from ministering to minors, his superiors in the archdiocese were once again changing their story. Now they are claiming to have…well, let’s review the bidding.

On April 28, Mark Mueller of the Star-Ledger reported that Fugee had been working with children, in contravention of the 2007 memorandum of understanding signed by both him and the archdiocese of Newark. “But,” Mueller reported, Archbishop John J. Myers’ spokesman Jim Goodness “denied the agreement had been breached, saying 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 conditions in the agreement.”

On May 2, after Fugee resigned his ministry amid a media firestorm, Goodness made a U-turn on his denial:

Tonight, the spokesman sought to clarify his statements, saying that while it was “good” Fugee was under supervision, the priest did not seek permission from the archdiocese before participating in youth activities.

“He engaged in activities that the archdiocese was not aware of and that were not approved by us, and we would never have approved them because they are all in conflict with the memorandum of understanding,” Goodness said.

A week later, the archdiocese lawyered up, hiring Michael Critchley, a criminal defense attorney best known in Jersey for winning the acquittal of mafioso Michael “Mad Dog” Taccetta in the mid-1980s. Then Myers took off for week-long pilgrimage to Poland.

Which brings us to yesterday, when the following statement was promulgated under Goodness’ name in response to Fugee’s arraignment on seven counts of judicial contempt, all having to do with his hearing the confessions of minors in churches and on youth retreats:

We take these allegations seriously and will cooperate fully with law enforcement in its investigation. When the Archdiocese learned of Father Fugee’s violation of certain of its protocols during his off-hours, he was informed there would be significant consequences. Nothing is more sacred than the welfare of our children.

We are in the process of taking steps to ensure that, as much as humanly possible, this type of thing cannot happen again.

You’ll note the new direction: Gone is the admission that Fugee violated the memorandum of understanding, whose provisions the archdiocese pledged “to honor both the letter and the spirit of.” His malfeasance now consists of violating certain internal protocols. You figure that, on advice of consigliere, Myers doesn’t want to be in the position of having to admit that the archdiocese didn’t keep its pledge.

I’m guessing that the relevant protocols, if they exist, run along the lines of the Safe Environment Protocol that applies when parish groups use the Archdiocesan Youth Retreat Center in Kearney. That says, among other things, that 10 days before a retreat the pastor in charge must provide the Director of Youth and Young Adult Services with a “listing all chaperones’ names, certifying that all youth ministry leaders and chaperones/volunteers, both Catholic and non-Catholic, from that parish/school have been screened by a third party and safe environment trained, as required by the procedures of this archdiocese.”

Presumably no such listing was provided to the director by the pastors who invited Fugee to minister with them. And perhaps some pastoral heads will roll, as they did when the bishop of Trenton learned that Fugee had been ministering to children on retreat in his diocese. In the meantime, job one is to protect the head of the archbishop.

Update: So Fugee will, according to his lawyer, fight the charges, on the grounds that he was properly supervised. The shift by the archdiocese hints that it has returned to its original claim; i.e. that supervised ministry to children was permitted by the MOU. It’s possible that Fugee will claim that he was given explicit permission by the archdiocese to engage in such ministry. In which case, the court proceeding could turn out to be perilous for the archbishop.

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


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  • Oh, …”he was informed there would be significant consequences” means that when the Archdiocese learned that he was in jail, they sent someone to tell him he was in trouble.

  • If the Archdiocese would put as much effort into keeping their promises as they do in hiring expensive PR firms to obfuscate the truth, they would come out way ahead in the long run. Are their actions protecting the institution (and the hierarchy’s privileged lifestyle) from the loss of donor revenue?

  • The protocols / modus operandi of the Clergy of Newark, namely LYING (aka MENTAL RESERVATION) & COVER UP continues to be the standard operating procedure observed by the “hierarchy” at large. Doubtless the RC “church’s” Operations Manual was inspired by Orwell’s best-selling novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four! His timely words . . .
    ‘The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became truth.’

    The so-called “princes of the church” are experts in doublethink, the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously.  In this case, the past is what they say it is.  This is because they have changed their minds about it and forgotten that they have. 
    Again quoting Orwell,
    ‘The past is whatever the Party (Church) chooses to make it.  It also follows that though the past is alterable, it never has been altered in any specific instance … this new version is the past, and no different past can ever have existed … At all times the Party (Church) is in possession of absolute truth, and clearly the absolute can never have been different from what it is now … And if it is necessary to rearrange one’s memories or to tamper with written records, then it is necessary to forget that one has done so.’
    Those who run this operation have proven time and time again they cannot be trusted. The “hierarchy” do nothing to inspire trust; nothing to instill confidence and everything to insure that the mass exodus by the formerly faithful from their pews will continue unabated. As the old adage goes . . “once fooled shame on you; twice fooled shame on me!” As my husband is fond of saying . . “you can fool some of Catholics some of the time, but not all of the Catholics all of the time, and none of the ex-Catholics at all”!

    Time to opt out of the unholy . . irreformable Roman Catholic “church”!

  • Myers has backed himself into a corner, and there is no place to hide.

    It takes a lot of courage to come forward and take action to expose the truth about being sexually abused as a child.
    Hopefully Fr Michael Fugee will be kept behind bars, he has proven that he can not be trusted to stay away from kids.
    Also, Archbishop John J. Myers may have broken the law too, let alone the fact that he broke his own “zero tolerance” child protection policy, so he needs to be held responsible too.

    It is extremely rare that a child predator has only one victim. Some have many. Child predators need to be kept far away from kids forever, and “the church officials know this”.
    So let’s hope that every person who saw, suspects or may have been harmed by Michael Fugee or anyone within the Newark Archdiocese, will find the courage and strength to speak up and contact police, no matter how long ago it happened.

    Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, USA, 636-433-2511. [email protected],
    “SNAP (The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests)

  • Great work, Mark Silk, in following the parsed language of the archdiocese. The goal is always and everywhere to protect the boss (Myers).

    The latest twist is for Myers to eschew any association with Fugee’s breaking the agreement. Blameless he must be. In his nether world, Myers apparently has no obligation to keep track, monitor, or know what Fugee is doing. “Not my job; can’t help it if Fugee doesn’t tell me everything.” Such strategic ignorance.

    Of course Myers did not keep his pledge to the prosecutor that Fugee not minister to minors. Does any NJ prosecutor have the cojones to charge Myers for violating a legal agreement the archdiocese signed?

    Under a “corporation sole” organization, isn’t Myers equated legally with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, Inc.?

    I hope there is a level of public disgust with Myers sufficient to endorse criminal charges against him, just as there are charges against Fugee. Myers should not be above the law.

  • Re: “Under a ‘corporation sole’ organization, isn’t Myers equated legally with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, Inc.?”

    Correction, that should read “Roman Catholic ArchBISHOP of Newark, Inc.”

  • Thank you for this story. So they are saying that Fugee violated internal protocols with this off-hours stuff, which I assume is the youth group stuff with the Lenehans from Colts Neck. But he was arrested for the confessions with youths within RCAN, under RCAN pastors, in RCAN parishes.

    Ah well, who knows anymore. They have so many lies going now they can’t keep them straight.

  • You know what you are JuneAnnette…You’re an ambulance chaser. Why are you so obsessed with trying to get people to leave their faith? You disgust me with your anti-Catholicism that you are spreading all over all of the comboxes of these stories on Fugee. I guess you’re a big high and mighty ex-Catholic, well, go pat yourself on the back a few more times. You’re a big jerk.