LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Resignations at Colts Neck Parish Increase Pressure on Newark Archbishop

By David Cruz
NJ Today

As boys and girls and parents from the St. Mary’s of Colts Neck Parish made their way into the church to celebrate Holy Communion, their parish was about to be rocked by news that their pastor and the ministers of the youth program there had resigned, the latest casualties in the growing scandal centered at the Newark Archdiocese. Pastor Tom Triggs and Mike and Amy Lenehan tendered their resignations on Saturday. Trenton Archbishop David O’Connell informed parishioners at the end of mass on Sunday in a letter read by a substitute priest.

“It is my hope and prayer that this community of faith can move forward together,” said the statement, adding “that any anger or hurt will subside and that the Lord will bless our efforts to serve one another in His name.”

The Star-Ledger reported that Father Mike Fugee, barred from working with kids, had been regularly ministering to children at the St. Mary’s Parish. He was brought to the parish by Mike and Amy Lenehan. O’Connell has denied knowing about Fugee’s role and the Lenehans have been laying low, although we did reach them yesterday. They wouldn’t appear on camera but released this statement to NJ Today.

“We have done nothing wrong,” it says. “We have taken this action in order to keep peace with the community. We believe in our faith; that’s the most important thing.”

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Newark, a job Amy Lenehan once had, at first maintained that the Lenehans were supervising Fugee at St. Mary’s. But the archdiocese has since modified its statement, maintaining now that they knew nothing of Fugee’s involvement with the couple, or St. Mary’s.

“That parish, those incidents. They all took place outside the Archdiocese. They were not within the jurisdiction of the archdiocese,” said Archdiocese Spokesperson Jim Goodness, adding that the Lenehans and the Archdiocese had no relationship. “There was no way to know.”

Meanwhile, parishioners expressed shock and dismay at the news about Triggs, many refusing to comment on camera. But those who did speak with us were adamant in their support — of both Triggs and the Lenehans.

“[Children] always have been [safe at St. Mary’s] because the people that run all the CCD classes, they make sure that everybody involved with the children got a clearance. Everybody,” said long-time parishioner John Brabowski.

Reminded that Father Fugee faced no such scrutiny, he added, “No doubt about it. He slipped under the radar.”

Bob Hoatson, founder of the victims advocacy group Road to Recovery, led a handful of demonstrators on the sidewalk near the church Sunday. He reiterated his call for Newark Archbishop John Myers to take responsibility for this growing mess.

“The danger that was posed to children is enormous, and the Newark Archdiocese treats this as if it were a cut on the hand,” he said.

Even supporters of the Lenehans and Pastor Triggs, some of whom criticized Hoatson’s group for demonstrating outside the church on Sunday, pointed the finger of responsibility at one person.

“Go to Newark and get that Bishop because he did not make sure that everyone knew there were restrictions [on Fugee],” said one parishioner who refused to give her name. Asked if she was referring to Newark Archbishop Myers, she added, “You better believe it. Absolutely, because he is at fault. That’s a Newark problem.”

While pressure on Archbishop Myers continues to grow, the Archdiocese has gone silent again, not returning our phone calls, so barring any new developments, we await the results of an investigation by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office to find out who is responsible for potentially putting kids in danger, and what consequences they will face.