By John Burton
COLTS NECK — The Roman Catholic priest, whose participation with a youth group at St. Mary’s has caused considerable public outcry, has offered his resignation from ministry. Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding the priest will be the subject of a parish meeting, conducted Friday evening by the St. Mary’s pastor.
The Rev. Michael Fugee “has asked for permission and has been granted permission to leave the ministry” by Newark Archbishop John J. Myers, said Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the archdiocese.
According to Goodness, Fugee made the request on Thursday.
Fugee has been at the center of a controversy since it was reported that he attended weekend retreats in 2010 with members of the St. Mary’s youth group.
About a decade ago, Fugee was charged with and then convicted of inappropriately touching a boy while serving in a North Jersey parish. The conviction was overturned on appeal and Fugee was admitted to a special pretrial program, put on probation and signed an agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office that he would not have unsupervised contact with children.
Fugee reportedly attended weekend retreats where he heard one-on-one confessions from minors, which may have violated the agreement between the priest and prosecutor’s office, according to press accounts.
The Rev. Thomas Triggs, pastor of St. Mary’s Parish, has scheduled what he called an “information meeting to address the situation our parish is in,” for 7:30 p.m. Friday. The meeting is intended for parishioners only and will be held in the main church, 1 Phalanx Road, according to an email Triggs sent to parishioners.
In an email Triggs sent to parishioners on April 29, the pastor wrote “This priest is not a member of our staff and has had limited exposure to our youth ministry, always under supervision.”
The Diocese of Trenton was not aware of Fugee’s presence at a St. Mary’s youth retreat until contacted by the press, diocesan spokeswoman Rayanne Bennett said in an email.
“Father Fugee had been given no permission to exercise ministry there by the diocese,” Bennett said. She went to say Fugee also had not filed what is called a letter of suitability with the diocese’s Chancery. That letter is required of all priest from outside the diocese to participate in those programs, she said.
“Please know that this priest will never be involved in any ministry at St. Mary’s,” Trigg said in the April 29 email to parishioners, adding that parish representatives were reviewing all diocesan policies concerning child safety to ensure the parish is in compliance.
The Diocese of Trenton is currently reviewing the Fugee matter and will have no further comment “until we are assured that we have all the facts,” Bennett said.
This step for Fugee, the Archdiocese of Newark’s Goodness said, was that he cannot wear clericals nor cannot represent himself as a priest. “He can’t perform any of the normal duties of a priest.”
But Fugee technically remains a priest in the archdiocese until the resignation receives Vatican approval, Goodness said.