Rev. Michael Fugee, a priest of the Newark Archdiocese, has opted for laicization rather than face criminal contempt charges that he violated a court order to stay away from minors. The court order stems from an agreement between Fugee, the Newark Archdiocese,and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office. The court order represented an alternative to a second trial after a 2006 appellate court ruling overturned Fugee’s 2003 conviction for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy.
The latest agreement includes Fugee’s promise that he will no longer represent himself as a priest or spiritual advisor to young people. According to the National Catholic Reporter, “Rather than pursue the five, fourth-degree criminal contempt charges it brought against the priest, the prosecutor’s office and Fugee agreed that he would ‘seek and obtain’ laicization from the priesthood. The fourth-degree charges carried a punishment of a fine and maximum 18 months in prison. Molinelli indicated that had his office sought Fugee’s conviction, the soon-to-be former priest likely would have received a probation sentence, since he had no prior convictions.”
This new agreement is puzzling on many levels. Since it comes as a result of the Archdiocese and Fugee’s violation of a similar order, it’s difficult to understand the prosecutor’s confidence that this order will be followed. Secondly, Fugee’s laicization does little to protect children. In fact, it may produce the opposite result. Fugee is now free to apply for secular jobs and will not be actively monitored by any secular authority. The original court order will still be in place, however, it is obvious that it has not deterred Fugee’s conduct in the past.
In essence, Fugee avoided possible jail time while agreeing to what seems a foregone conclusion anyway—he won’t be presenting himself as a Catholic priest. Unfortunately, it’s an odd ruling that does little to protect children or punish the offending parties.