By John Burton
COLTS NECK — The pastor and youth group ministers at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church have stepped down in the aftermath of revelations that a priest from the Newark Archdiocese previously was involved with the parish’s youth program, even though he was legally prohibited from such activities without supervision.
Bishop David M. O’Connell of the Diocese of Trenton announced Monday that he accepted the resignation of the Rev. Thomas J. Triggs as pastor.
Triggs’ last act as pastor, according to the diocese, was to accept the resignations of Michael and Amy Lenehan, parish youth ministers. The resignations are effective immediately.
In a statement read during Masses this past weekend, O’Connell said, “The troubling events of the past week and the unrelenting scrutiny that have surrounded them in the media and within your parish have made it clear to me that a change in parish leadership is in the best interest of all concerned.”
O’Connell went on to say he will appoint a parish administrator in the next few days.
Triggs, who had been with the parish for six years, has been granted a sabbatical before the bishop gives him a new assignment, according to the diocese.
In a separate written statement also read during Mass, Triggs told the parishioners that given the controversy that arose and the response he heard from parishioners at an informational meeting conducted in the church Friday, May 3, it had become clear to him “that the good of our parish can only be served if I step down as pastor.”
The moves are the latest developments that erupted when it became public that the Rev. Michael Fugee, a Catholic priest with the Archdiocese of Newark, had participated in a religious youth retreat, where he conducted one-on-one confessions with youth group members.
Fugee had been charged a decade ago with inappropriately touching a boy. After he was convicted on the charge, the verdict was overturned on appeal on a procedural matter. Instead of retrying the case, Fugee was placed in a special pre-trial program, given probation and he and the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office reached an agreement requiring Fugee undergo counseling and be permitted limited ministry work. The agreement also prohibited him from unsupervised access to minors. He was assigned to the Newark Chancery Office.
After reports were published recently that Fugee had participated in youth group activities at St. Mary’s, he offered Newark Archbishop John J. Meyers his resignation Thursday, May 2, from the Chancery. Meyers accepted. Fugee, however, technically remains a priest but cannot perform any duties of the clergy or church. Any future decision concerning Fugee’s religious status rests with the Vatican, diocesan officials said.
A St. Mary’s youth group meeting scheduled for Monday, May 6, has been postponed until further notice, according to Triggs’ statement.
“There are few things in life as important as protecting our children and young people,” O’Connell said in his statement. “We all must commit ourselves to that goal by supporting the policies of the Diocese of Trenton.”