I am sure we all agree that last Monday’s announcement about Archbishop Hebda’s additional assignment as Apostolic Administrator of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul-Minneapolis was a surprise. This was a moment to congratulate Archbishop Hebda, wish him well, and offer our support. Yet I was saddened to see that some local news outlets and “experts” in the field took the announcement as an opportunity to rehash old and inaccurate information about the Archdiocese, and to cast aspersions about our deep commitment to the care and protection of children, young people and the vulnerable, healing for those who have been abused, and financial stewardship of resources. Since the announcement and coverage will be a topic of conversation in your parish and school communities, I wanted to put into your hands information to help you provide a full perspective on the issue.
Archbishop Hebda’s Assignment in Saint Paul-Minneapolis
In his conversations with both Archbishop Myers and Archbishop Hebda, the Papal Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, stressed that the Holy Father’s request was for Archbishop Hebda to assume the responsibility of the Saint Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese while the Holy See seeks a successor to Archbishop John Nienstedt. That process may take some time, for sure. However, Archbishop Hebda remains the Coadjutor Archbishop of Newark. There has been no discussion or plan for that to change. He certainly will be traveling between Newark and Saint Paul-Minneapolis regularly in the coming weeks. But he will continue to assist Archbishop Myers in all of our major undertakings – from the We Are Living Stones and Sharing God’s Blessings campaigns, to New Evangelization efforts, to the Lighting the Way and Religious Education initiatives.
A Needless Obsession over a House
Several of the stories regurgitated the manufactured controversy over Archbishop Myers’ future retirement residence, a 30-year-old house that the Archdiocese has owned for almost 15 years. The current house is not, as has been reported, a mansion. It is a good-sized suburban frame house that the Archdiocese purchased in 2002 with funds gained from the sale of a Jersey Shore house that Archbishop McCarrick had used during his time. An earlier house at the Jersey Shore had been sold to enable the purchase of the house Archbishop McCarrick used, and a house in Connecticut, which the Archdiocese still owns, had been purchased for Archbishop Gerety. The original funds for that house came from the sale of a home that a prominent Newark-area family had given to the Archdiocese more than 50 years ago as a restricted gift for use as a residence for Archbishop Boland and his successors.
The Connecticut house is in process of being sold. Its proceeds will fund, along with contributions from individuals, the renovations on the current house, as well as enable the Archdiocese to provide additional support for ministries such as Catholic Charities or Catholic schools. The Archbishop plans on using the retirement house as his residence and office, as a place to house Archdiocesan guests, and as a place for him to host seminars, study groups and retreats during the year. Once this house is no longer needed, the Archdiocese -- which continues to own it -- will decide any future use or need for the property.
All the while, local media has continually neglected to report to the public that in the past decade or so, Archbishop Myers and the Archdiocese have provided more than $100 million in direct grants and loans to parishes, schools and social service/healthcare ministries of this Archdiocese so that they may continue to serve our people. Each of you knows how your parish or school has benefited from this support.
A Gross Disregard for the Facts of the Archdiocese’s Record on Handling Sexual Abuse
Let’s begin by saying first, and clearly, that the Archdiocese has a strong and proud record of responding to the issue of sexual abuse of minors. In 1993, some ten years before it was required by the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the Archdiocese established a strong Lay Review Board/Response Team to deal with allegations. The Archdiocese reports all accusations of abuse to law enforcement, and works with the County Prosecutors to ensure that they receive all available information.
Since his arrival in 2001, Archbishop Myers has removed permanently from ministry 19 priests against whom allegations were substantiated and who faced penalties under Church law. Only two Archdiocesan priests have been convicted or pleaded guilty to criminal charges involving minors during this same time, and both have resigned or been dismissed from the priesthood. No Archdiocesan priest has been charged with a crime involving minors since 2004. Those accused of abuse are temporarily removed from ministry or assignment while investigations are ongoing. If the allegation is substantiated, the removal is permanent.
The Archdiocese of Newark requires all staff and volunteers working with children and youth to undergo background checks and receive sexual abuse awareness training. More than 20,000 Clergy, Religious and Lay people have received this training and undergone criminal background checks. We require background rechecks every five years, and retraining every three years. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishop is now looking to amend the Charter and require all dioceses to institute a similar policy of background rechecks.
Nearly 95,000 children annually receive safe environment training through our Catholic schools and through opportunities offered to public school students in our religious education programs.
The Archdiocese utilizes the services of a Licensed Clinical Social Worker as the first contact for individuals who allege that they were abused so that counseling and other support services can be offered immediately if appropriate – sometimes even before a determination is made regarding the credibility of an allegation. The Archdiocese takes very seriously the needs of victims who approach the Church seeking healing from abuse. In addition to offering counseling and other support services, in appropriate cases, the Archdiocese provides reasonable compensation to those victims seeking a financial settlement of their civil claim, even after the statute of limitations has lapsed. Settlements are not confidential unless requested by the victim, and may include funding for continued psychological counseling. The Archdiocese’s general liability insurance coverage is the sole source of funds used to pay abuse settlements. Although the Archdiocese, parishes and schools pay premiums to purchase insurance, no parish or school assets, Archdiocesan assets or Sharing God’s Blessings or other fundraising collections are used to pay civil claims related to abuse cases.
A full-time Office of Child and Youth Protection dedicated to protecting children works with parishes and schools to ensure that safe environments are in place throughout the Archdiocese.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ outside auditors have certified that the Archdiocese of Newark has complied with the terms of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in every year since audits began in 2003. We are doing what we say we do.
Michael Fugee, still?
In the matter of Michael Fugee, which our local papers continue to dredge up, these same outlets continue to under-report or fail to report the facts. Michael Fugee was charged with a crime in 2000 – before Archbishop Myers’ arrival -- and he was out of ministry until 2009. In 2003, after Fugee’s original trial in the NJ Superior Court produced a conviction on one of two counts of misconduct, Archbishop Myers sought and received authorization from the Vatican to begin canonical proceedings. However, the conviction was overturned by the NJ State Appeals court in 2006. The Appeals court determined that mistakes and actions the trial judge had undertaken during the trial led the jury to produce an unfair verdict.
Instead of retrying the case, the prosecutor advised Fugee and the Archdiocese that: if Fugee underwent court-appointed psychological counseling, if Fugee and the Archdiocese signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) stating that Fugee will not engage in ministry with youths, and if the Archdiocese would not assign Fugee to any youth ministry -- then they would drop all charges and allow Fugee to return to ministry. After the 18 months, the court-appointed psychologist reported to the court that Fugee posed no risk to minors and could return to ministry.
Archbishop Myers then asked the Archdiocesan Review Board (ARB) to conduct its own inquiry into the allegations originally raised against Fugee. After conducting its interviews and reviewing materials -- the MOU, the recommendation of the State-appointed psychiatrist, and the County Prosecutor’s “public approval” of him returning to ministry through implementation of the MOU and dismissal of any further charges – the ARB recommended that a restricted ministry that did not involve minors was possible.
The Archdiocese incorporated the wording of the MOU into a precept that carried with it the possibility of suspension if Fugee did not follow it. He returned to a restricted ministry in 2009. The Archdiocese never assigned him to any ministry that involved minors. Unfortunately, Fugee did engage in youth ministry activities, without permission. Within a week of learning in April 2013 about his actions, Fugee was removed from ministry.
A Grand Jury convened by the prosecutor in Summer/Fall 2013 to look into possible criminal violations by the Archdiocese determined that neither the Archdiocese nor Archbishop Myers broke any law or failed to abide by the MOU agreement. By November 2013, however, Fugee admitted that he had violated the agreement. He was laicized shortly thereafter, and now is under continual supervision by the Prosecutor’s Office. Case closed.
It’s important to make mention here that we continue to wonder why local media, which claim that they want to reveal all about this societal problem, continue to rely upon certain “victims’ advocates” for comment, especially in light of what is known about them. For example, a nationally-known newspaper not in our area, in a profile of a well-known New Jersey-based advocate, reported that he has been sued by victims he supposedly was helping, and been accused of exploiting victims to propel his nonprofit. The profile reported that he purports to counsel victims, but has no social work license or counseling credentials. There are questions about the source of funding for his organization. Yet local papers in our area continue to choose this person as their “go-to guy” whenever they want to paint the Archdiocese in a negative light.
We are not perfect. But media and victim advocacy “experts” who suggest we have not taken seriously the security and safety of our families and parishioners, especially our children, and our stewardship obligations, are just plain wrong.
Even though local media may not wish to make known to you the information I share with you, it is important for Catholics and non-Catholics alike in New Jersey hear it and know where we stand. I ask your help in making that happen. Thank you.