By Mark Mueller
Religion News Service
HACKENSACK, N.J. (RNS) Wearing a bright orange prison jumpsuit, the priest at the center of the furor in the Archdiocese in Newark made his first court appearance on Tuesday (May 21) on charges he violated a court-sanctioned lifetime ban on working with children.
The Rev. Michael Fugee, 52, stood for the brief hearing as Bergen County Assistant Prosecutor Demetra Maurice read the seven counts against him.
Maurice is the same prosecutor who authored the 2007 agreement with Fugee and the Archdiocese of Newark that bars him from working with children in any capacity as long as he remains a priest.
Fugee made no comments during the five-minute hearing and did not have an attorney present. His arms and legs shackled, he stared directly at the wall in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Patrick Roma as more than a dozen members of the media looked on.
Bob Hoatson, a former priest in the Newark Archdiocese and head of a New Jersey support group called Road to Recovery, watched from the courtroom’s gallery.
“I’m here to see a 10-year attempt to hold Fugee and the archdiocese accountable after they have been coddling him and moving him from place to place, and then arrogantly proclaiming he’s an innocent man,” Hoatson said. “The review board that returned him to ministry should be disbanded, and we need a broom to sweep the archdiocese clean.”
Bail remains at $25,000 with a 10 percent option. The charges will next be presented before a grand jury, which will consider whether to indict Fugee.
Fugee, whose attendance at youth retreats and other events involving minors was disclosed in a series of articles in The Star-Ledger in recent weeks, was arrested by members of the special victims unit of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office at St. Antoninus Parish in Newark on Monday, a statement from the prosecutor’s office said.
Fugee admitted in 2001 to fondling the genitals of a teenage boy while wrestling with him. He was granted a leave from ministry this month but remains a priest in the archdiocese.
The Bergen County investigators found the priest heard confessions from minors at youth retreats twice in 2010 and again in 2012. He was charged with seven counts of contempt of a judicial order, a fourth-degree crime that carries a maximum prison term of 18 months.