Under cover of the Memorial Day holiday, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers tried to put the Fugee scandal behind him by throwing his vicar general under the bus and blaming “operational failures” and/or “vulnerabilities” for the fact that the “strong protocols” of the archdiocese were not always observed. Right.
Myers’ first direct statement on the matter, delivered in different forms on the Star-Ledger op-ed page Saturday, by priests in his parishes Sunday, and by himself on video, begins, “When I first learned several weeks ago that Father Michael Fugee may have violated a lifetime ban on ministry to minors…”) Given that his spokesman initially claimed that the court order permitted the priest to minister to minors “under supervision,” that’s a telling, if backhanded, admission.
What Myers does not acknowledge is that if he had followed the protocols of the USCCB, which he helped write, he wouldn’t be in the position he is today. Under the USCCB’s Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a priest is to be permanently removed from ministry “for even a single act of sexual abuse of a minor — whenever it occurred — which is admitted or established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law.”
After Fugee’s conviction for child molestation was dismissed on a technicality, the archdiocese signed a Memorandum of Understanding banning the priest from ministering to minors. You’d have thought that was an acknowledgement that sexual abuse of a minor had in fact occurred. But what Myers did next was to convene his anonymous review committee to look into the case, and lo and behold, the committee found that there had been no abuse. Whereupon he returned Fugee to ministry, giving him desk jobs in charge of doctrine and priest formation and appointing him as a chaplain at the local Catholic hospital (without letting the hospital administration know of Fugee’s past).
According to the Charter, “If the allegation is deemed not substantiated, every step possible is to be taken to restore his good name, should it have been harmed.” Myers, of course, did nothing of the sort. Imagine the archdiocese putting out a statement saying that notwithstanding the agreement permanently barring Fugee from ministry to minors, he had done nothing wrong and was being returned to an honorable place in ministry.
In his statement, Myers neither admits responsibility nor apologizes for what happened. That he failed to honor “both the letter and the spirit” of the Memorandum of Understanding cannot be doubted, though whether that failure rises to the level of, say, contempt of court, is hard to say. What the Fugee case points up, once again, is the absence of a procedure for church authorities to discipline bishops who fail to follow their own rules for handling abuse cases. And until such a procedure is put is put in place, and bishops are actually disciplined, the abuse scandal will not come to an end.