Home/Rod Dreher/On Not Learning Lessons

On Not Learning Lessons

Several of you Catholic readers have sent me this story: the (conservative, Opus Dei) Archbishop of Newark has given a high-profile job to a priest once convicted of groping a 14-year-old boy. Excerpt:

The Rev. Michael Fugee, who is barred from unsupervised contact with children under a binding agreement with law enforcement officials, has been appointed co-director of the Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests, the archdiocese recently announced in its newspaper, the Catholic Advocate.

Read those words again: “Ongoing. Formation. Of. Priests.” This is the priest that Abp Myers has chosen to head the office for formation of priests. More:

Jim Goodness, a spokesman for the archdiocese, called Fugee’s new role an administrative position based in the chancery office in Newark. Under no circumstances, Goodness said, will Fugee be alone with children.

“We have every confidence in him,” the spokesman said.

Fugee, 52, was serving as assistant pastor at the Church of St. Elizabeth in Wyckoff when authorities charged him in 2001 with aggravated criminal sexual contact and endangering the welfare of a child. He allegedly grabbed the crotch of a 14-year-old boy while wrestling with him at the teen’s home and on a vacation in Williamsburg, Va.

Under questioning by detectives from the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office and Wyckoff police, Fugee admitted touching the teen, saying he did it intentionally, that it sexually excited him and that he knew it was a “violation,” according to a transcript of his statement. He later recanted, claiming he lied so he could go home earlier.

Ah, so the guy won’t be around children, so what’s the problem? The problem is you have a man whose moral character is so defective that he’s not allowed, under agreement with the police, to be around children — and you’ve put him in charge of the ongoing formation of priests. What is it about clericalist bishops? It beggars belief.

Actually, Fugee’s conviction was overturned by an appeals court on a technicality:

The decision was based, in part, on the judge’s decision to let the jury hear the portion of Fugee’s statement in which he described himself as bisexual or homosexual.

The appellate court said the admission could have led jurors to find Fugee guilty because of the “unfounded association between homosexuality and pedophilia.” The rest of the confession was not called into question.

Rather than retry Fugee, prosecutors reached an agreement to put him in a rehab program for first-time sex offenders, and to bar him from being alone with kids for the rest of his life. But as far as the Archdiocese of Newark is concerned, Fugee is not only clean, but he is, in fact, a victim too:

Goodness, the spokesman, characterized Fugee as a victim in the case, saying the priest had been through a “terrible ordeal.”

So: a gay or bisexual sex offender priest who kind of got off on a technicality (because a judge worried about homophobic jurors) was chosen by the Archbishop of Newark to head the priestly formation office, and one is told that in fact, this priest is a victim in all of this.


What about the concerns and interests of the other priests in Newark? What about the laity? What about scandal? Most of all, what is it with the clericalism of bishops? In the Orthodox Church in America, the late Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas, a saintly man, restored to the altar in Miami a gay archdeacon who ran off to California to marry a man (when that was legal in California), then returned after he had second thoughts. The new Metropolitan Jonah affirmed the decision — this, even though the archdeacon was shacking up with a retired OCA bishop, but when he had some sense talked into him by a pissed-off laywoman who wanted to know where was the episcopal concern for the integrity of the altar and the interests of the laity, was blocked from removing the archdeacon by his brother bishops.

Because, you know, for many bishops and other church leaders, the welfare of the clergy is always and everywhere more important than the welfare of the laity and their children, or even basic moral integrity.

These guys never learn.

UPDATE: Let me clarify what I’m interested in here. I take it for granted that some bishops and church leaders make these kinds of calls because they are bad men with something to hide. But I think many others make this kind of call out of a malformed sense of charity, abetted by a sense, likely unconscious, that the clergy are “real” to them in a way the laity are not. I would love to hear from priests and laypeople who have knowledge of this mentality. Help me understand how it works. It is not, please note, a liberal thing or a conservative thing. That is a canard. Nor, I should say, is it an exclusively Catholic thing.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

leave a comment

Latest Articles