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N.J. monsignor quits amid priest scandal

NEW YORK — One of the top officials in the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., has been forced out for failing to properly monitor the activities of a priest who had been forbidden from having contact with children, the archdiocese announced Saturday.

The dismissal of Monsignor John E. Doran, who reported to Archbishop John J. Myers, is the latest fallout from a sexual abuse scandal that stretches back more than a decade.

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In 2003, the Rev. Michael Fugee was convicted on charges that he groped a young boy. Although the verdict was later overturned because of judicial error, Fugee confessed to the authorities that he had improperly touched the boy and agreed to undergo counseling. As part of an agreement with the prosecutor’s office in Bergen County, he also pledged never to minister to young children for the rest of his life.

Doran was responsible for supervising Fugee, according to court documents.

However, an investigation by The Star Ledger published in April found Fugee had been openly working with children again, hearing confessions, attending youth retreats, and posting photos of himself with boys on his Facebook page.

After the revelations, the Rev. Thomas Triggs, the pastor of the church in Colts Neck, N.J., where Fugee attended youth retreats, resigned under pressure from the bishop of Trenton, David M. O’Connell. (Colts Neck is part of the Diocese of Trenton.)

Myers’s office continued to publicly defend its handling of the case until last week, when Fugee was arrested on charges that he had violated his agreement with prosecutors.

In a letter to parishioners, Myers acknowledged that the church leadership had failed. “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.”

“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. Fugee’s lawyer, Michael D’Alessio, did not return a call seeking comment.

Doran, who signed the letter from the archbishop, could not be reached for comment. The church characterized his dismissal as a resignation.

Myers, while noting the failures in this case, defended how his office has handled allegations of sexual abuse.

“We want our procedures to be among the strictest in the entire Catholic Church,” he wrote. “This has been one of my priorities since becoming Archbishop in 2001 and that will not change. In fact, the Archdiocese has an exemplary record of addressing allegations against our clergy. During my tenure I have personally removed 19 priests for substantiated allegations.”

The case of Fugee has stoked outrage among parishioners and politicians in New Jersey. It appeared to be a clear violation of the child protection policies the US bishops adopted in 2002, at the height of the sexual abuse scandal, which pledged that any priest faced with what appear to be credible accusations of child sexual abuse against them may not continue working in ministry.

Myers said he would appoint a special adviser to the Archdiocesan Review Board and provide more resources to look at allegations of sex misconduct.

“We are not perfect,” he wrote, “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.”

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