By Mark Mueller
NEWARK, N.J. (RNS) The No. 2 official in the Archdiocese of Newark was sacked from his leadership position for mishandling the supervision of a priest who violated a lifetime ban on ministry to children.
Archbishop John J. Myers, speaking out for the first time on the scandal that has imperiled his future in Newark, described the removal of Monsignor John E. Doran as one step in a series of reforms meant to “strengthen internal protocols” and “ensure we are doing everything we can to safeguard the children of our community.”
Doran, who served as vicar general and moderator of the curia, is among the highest-ranking Roman Catholic officials in the country to be demoted over the handling of a priest accused of sexual abuse, observers say.
“This is a very significant decision,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior analyst with the National Catholic Reporter and a former editor of America, a Catholic magazine. “Short of being a bishop, vicar general and moderator of the curia is as high as you can get.”
Doran is the archdiocese official who signed an agreement with prosecutors in 2007, pledging to supervise the Rev. Michael Fugee, who had confessed to police that he groped a teenage boy years earlier.
Fugee, 52, was convicted of the groping charges in 2003, but the verdict was later overturned because of judicial error. To avoid retrial, he entered a state rehabilitation program, underwent counseling for sex offenders and, by means of the agreement with prosecutors, promised to stay away from children.
The agreement banned Fugee from ministering to children for as long as he remained a priest. Yet Fugee blatantly disregarded those terms, attending youth retreats and hearing confessions from minors in parishes in and out of the archdiocese.
Fugee has been criminally charged with contempt of a judicial order for violating the agreement, and is free on bail. Fugee was granted a leave from ministry May 2, though he remains a priest.
Through his spokesman, the archbishop at first defended Fugee’s interactions with children, saying that because he was supervised by other adults, he had not breached the agreement. Days later, he said Fugee had acted without his knowledge.
The case has led to national condemnation and repeated calls for the archbishop’s resignation.
In his announcement about Doran that was read at all weekend Masses, Myers reiterated he did not know about Fugee’s travels and immediately ordered an investigation by an outside law firm when he learned of them.
“The investigation uncovered certain operational vulnerabilities in our own systems,” Myers wrote. “We found that the strong protocols presently in place were not always observed.”
He did not elaborate on the vulnerabilities but seemed to lay responsibility for the failure to monitor Fugee squarely on the shoulders of Doran.
“As a result of operational failures, both Msgr. Doran and I felt that the archdiocese would be best served by his stepping down as vicar general,” Myers wrote, characterizing the removal as a resignation. “This action clears the way for making more effective changes in our monitoring function.”
To some critics, Myers’ actions, including the removal of Doran, did not go far enough. David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, repeated his demand today that Myers resign.
“Myers keeps making grudging, belated public relations moves and calling them ‘reform,’” Clohessy said in a statement. “That won’t cut it.”
(Mark Mueller writes for The Star-Ledger.)