NJ ex-priest jailed after working with kids

May 21, 2013 12:15:34 PM PDT
A judge on Tuesday ordered a New Jersey priest held while a grand jury considers whether he violated a legal agreement to stay away from children.

Michael Fugee flouted a 2003 order he reached with the Bergen County Prosecutor's office and the Archdiocese of Newark that allowed him to return to ministry after being convicted on charges that he fondled a boy, authorities said.

The major stipulation of the agreement was that Fugee be barred from having unsupervised contact with minors or a job that required him to oversee or minister to children under 18.

Despite that, Fugee became a fixture at a youth group in Colts Neck, N.J., hearing confession from minors and attending overnight retreats.

Prosecutors charged Fugee with seven counts of contempt of a judicial order. They claim he heard confessions from minors seven times between April 2010 and December 2012 at various churches, a retreat center and a private home.

"Michael Fugee purposely and knowingly disobeyed a judicial order," said assistant prosecutor Demetra Maurice.

Fugee, his feet and hands shackled and clad in a bright orange jumpsuit that read "BCJ Prisoner" on the back, stood and fidgeted during the brief proceeding Tuesday.

Judge Patrick J. Roma ordered Fugee held on $25,000 bail. The case now proceeds to a grand jury. A message was left for Fugee's attorney.

"We take these allegations seriously and will fully cooperate with law enforcement authorities in their investigation," the archdiocese said in a statement.

In the prior case, Fugee confessed to police that while on vacation in Virginia with a teenage boy and his mother, both parishioners, Fugee wrestled with the boy, "grabbed his crotch" and said he was sexually "excited" by what he'd done.

Fugee's lawyers said the confession was coerced, but a jury convicted him of aggravated sexual assault in 2003.

The conviction was thrown out after courts revised jury instructions tied to a procedural aspect of the case. Rather than retry Fugee, prosecutors entered into an agreement that allowed him to return to active ministry but barred him from having unsupervised contact with or overseeing minors.

The archdiocese said an internal review board examined Fugee's case and determined that sexual abuse didn't take place in the case and Fugee was allowed to return to ministry. He was placed in a hospital where the archdiocese said there was not a pediatric ward and then in an administrative job at archdiocesan headquarters in Newark.

Fugee was longtime friends with youth minsters at St. Mary's Church in Colt's Neck. A parishioner there, Margaret Franklin, said Fugee attended at least three youth retreats with her children.

The church is in the Diocese of Trenton, and the Archdiocese of Newark was to contact the diocese if Fugee were at the church.

But Fugee never told the archdiocese what he was doing, and the archdiocese said it did not know he had contact with children until contacted by a reporter for the Newark Star-Ledger in late April.

Fugee resigned from the archdiocese May 2 in a letter saying the archdiocese did not know about his youth ministry work.

"My failure to request the required permissions to engage in those ministry activities is my fault, my fault alone," Fugee wrote. "I am sorry that my actions have caused pain to my church and to her people."