LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Pressure Mounts For Newark Archbishop to Step Down

By David Cruz
NJ Today

When he appeared on NJ Today back in March, Newark Archbishop John Myers addressed the sex abuse scandals that continue to rock the Catholic Church.

“The bishops in this country since 2002 have been straightforward in addressing these issues,” he told Managing Editor Mike Schneider.

But that vigilance, according to some, has been seriously lacking in the Newark Archdiocese, especially in the case of Father Mike Fugee. In 2001, rather than face a retrial on charges he fondled a 14-year-old boy, Fugee signed an agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor that prohibited him from being around any children.

But as The Star-Ledger reported this weekend, that’s exactly what he’s been doing. Fugee ministered to children and teenagers around New Jersey at weekend retreats and hearing confessions in private, all apparently without the knowledge of parishioners or clergy there and in violation of the agreement. Because the Archdiocese of Newark also signed on to that agreement, critics say Archbishop Myers should be held accountable for allowing Fugee to be around kids.

“We hold him accountable for continuing to place Father Fugee in positions where he comes into contact with children, where he is administering communion to his parishioners,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, “and that, quite frankly, is a breach of agreement.”

Huttle is one of several legislators calling for Myers to step down, at least until the Bergen County Prosecutor finishes an investigation that began this week. Today, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Barbara Buono weighed in, telling NJTV “John Myers’ decision … is incomprehensible. His lack of judgment calls into question his ability to protect those in his flock. The only resolution I see is his immediate dismissal while there is a thorough investigation…”

In Camden this afternoon, Gov. Chris Christie said he didn’t have the entire story yet.

“If in fact those things are true, and the complete story, then I have serious concerns,” he said. “I have a good relationship with the Archbishop. I’ll be talking with him; getting his side of the story.”

The Archdiocese has been reluctant to speak since this story broke. A spokesman says that Fugee had been cleared by investigative panels at the Newark Archdiocese and at the Vatican. Today, spokesman Jim Goodness told us, “We are cooperating fully with the inquiry by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. We do not feel that calls [for Archbishop Myers to resign] are warranted.”

But at a press conference this afternoon in front of the Newark Cathedral Basilica, members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said the Archbishop had failed to live up to his responsibility.

“Look, anybody who has performed or taken actions as he has that continue to put children at risk cannot be the moral leader. He has already eroded any credibility and trust by the faithful,” said Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests NJ State Director Mark Crawford.

The Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office did not return several phone calls today, but sources say this investigation has been fast-tracked, so a resolution, one way or the other, could be just days away.