NEWARK, N.J. — Archbishop John Myers of Newark said he was unaware that a priest who agreed not to have unsupervised contact with minors was working with youngsters and, after an investigation, sought the resignation of the archdiocese's vicar general for mishandling the priest's case.
Writing in an opinion piece in the May 25 issue of the Star-Ledger, the daily newspaper in Newark, Archbishop Myers said that Msgr. John Doran, the vicar general, agreed to resign after it was found existing protocols "were not always observed."
The resignation was effective immediately, the archbishop said.
Archbishop Myers said the change in administration was one of several steps being taken to strengthen the archdiocese's response to sexual abuse.
The resignation and changes also were announced in a May 26 letter to parishioners by the archbishop.
Both pieces came as Archbishop Myers continued to face intense criticism of the archdiocese's handling of the case of Father Michael Fugee. The priest was discovered to be traveling outside of the archdiocese to youth retreats and hearing minors' confessions in violation of a Bergen County Superior Court's 2007 memorandum of understanding that prohibited him from having unsupervised contact with young people as long as he remained a priest.
The memorandum was developed after a criminal trial in 2003 in which a jury convicted Father Fugee of criminal sexual contact. He was accused of inappropriate contact with a boy four times in 1999 and 2000 while engaging in wrestling sessions in the boy's home. The jury acquitted him of child endangering.
The priest later appealed his conviction, saying he had lied to investigators about inappropriately touching the teen in order to return home more quickly. The conviction was vacated on other grounds.
Father Fugee, 52, resigned from active ministry May 2 but remains a priest. He had been serving as co-director of the archdiocesan Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests and director of the Office of the Propagation of the Faith. He was arrested May 20 on seven counts of violating a judicial order.
In his opinion piece and the letter, Archbishop Myers said he was unaware of Father Fugee's travels.
"The investigation uncovered certain operational vulnerabilities in our own systems" the archbishop wrote. "We found that the strong protocols presently in place were not always observed.
"The seriousness of the situation with Father Fugee required a thoughtful and effective response. Appointing a new vicar general will be just one step in a comprehensive plan to review, and where necessary, strengthen our internal protocols and ensure we are doing everything we can to safeguard the children of our community," Archbishop Myers added.
He announced the appointment of a special adviser to the archdiocese's review board and committed additional resources to the board. He also pledged to expand resources for training programs for clergy, men and women religious, lay volunteers and students in archdiocesan schools.
"We are not perfect," the archbishop continued. "But people who suggest we have not taken seriously the oversight of our clergy and do not put the security and safety of our families and parishioners, especially our children, at the forefront of our ministry are just plain wrong."
In his letter to parishioners, Archbishop Myers reiterated that he took the "lapse in our system" seriously and said he was "committed to doing everything with in my abilities to ensure nothing is left to change, that all appropriate resources and efforts are utilized in protecting our youngest parishioners."