By John Burton
COLTS NECK – It has been a turbulent week for St. Mary’s Parish and its members.
Parishioners have been reeling from recent revelations that the Rev. Michael Fugee, who had been accused of groping a boy a decade ago, was part of several parish youth group trips even through he was prohibited from unsupervised contact with children in accordance with an agreement he signed with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.
The reports about the Archdiocese of Newark priest’s participation resulted in several resignations, including St. Mary’s pastor, the Rev. Thomas Triggs, and youth group ministers, Michael and Amy Lenehan.
Following morning Mass at St. Mary’s Tuesday, May 7, most of the parishioners were unwilling to speak about the situation.
“I don’t know what to say,” said one older woman, who would not give her name. “It’s sad to lose a pastor.”
“I feel the whole situation is unfortunate,” said Bill Barnett, a parishioner for more than 30 years, adding he felt Triggs’ resignation “was an overly excessive treatment.”
Another woman, who also wouldn’t give her name, said she believed the parish and its members would move forward and be stronger than ever.
The Rev. Michael Fugee of the Newark Archdiocese was convicted 10 years ago of inappropriate touching of a boy while serving in a North Jersey parish. The conviction was overturned for procedural reasons. Fugee then was admitted to a special pretrial program, given two-years probation and signed the agreement with the prosecutor’s office.
Officials at St. Mary’s, the Diocese of Trenton and the Archdiocese of Newark have been dealing with the public outcry that developed when media reports surfaced about Fugee’s involvement with St. Mary’s youth weekend retreats, including his having heard confessions one-on-one.
A diocesan spokeswoman said officials were unaware of Fugee’s participation in the St. Mary’s retreats until receiving media inquiries. The priest had not received permission nor had he filed a letter of suitability with the Chancery Office that is required of all priests from outside the diocese to be allowed to work within the diocese.
Last week, Bishop David M. O’Connell of the Diocese of Trenton, which includes St. Mary’s, accepted Triggs’ resignation. Triggs had been pastor at the 1 Phalanx Road church for six years. Triggs’ last action before resigning was to accept the Lenehans’ resignations as parish youth ministers.
Fugee tendered his resignation from the priesthood Thursday, May 2. Newark Archbishop John J. Meyers accepted the request, which now is sent to the Vatican for final approval.
Triggs conducted an information meeting for parishioners on Friday, May 3, and announced his resignation Sunday, May 5, at Sunday’s Masses.
During Masses a statement from O’Connell was read. “The troubling events of the past week and the unrelenting scrutiny that have surrounded them in the media and within your parish have made it clear to me that a change in parish leadership is in the best interest of all concerned,” he said.
A statement from Triggs was also read at Masses. He said views expressed by parishioners at the informational hearing, “made it clear to me that the good of our parish can only be served if I step down as pastor.”
O’Connell planned to assign an administrator to oversee the parish until he selected a pastor. Triggs will be on sabbatical until he receives his next assignment.
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