Thursday, May 2, 2013

Bad Bishops: Same Old Spin - Different Day

There is a pattern and it's a sick and strange one.

Over the months, I have written at length about Kansas City Bishop Finn's dreadful handling of a sex abuse case in his diocese, and have taken quite a bit of heat from the True Believers, who swallow uncritically the cult-like notion that criticizing a bishop who endangers children is the equivalent of hating Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church.  (If you really want to have fun, read the whole series here).

Archbishop of Newark, John J. Myers
Now we have Archbishop Myers in New Jersey and sex abuser Fr. Michael Fugee.  The case is so much like the Finn case that it's weird.  Frank Weathers and Mark Shea have articles on the case, in which they link to local New Jersey reports, which themselves link to the original source documents at the heart of the matter, including this one, which apparently nobody wants to read.

I won't go into details, since if you're interested you can find the details at this link and elsewhere.  But let me point out a few similarities.

  • Bishops, apparently, have unlimited hubris.  Bishop Finn spent $1.4 million of diocesan funds to defend himself from criminal charges that threatened only a few thousand dollars in fines and that could easily have been plea bargained away, but that resulted in his conviction in criminal court.  This is not because Finn was bravely defending the Church, for part of the case, in one Missouri county, involved a plea agreement, in which Finn glibly handed over ecclesial authority to a governmental entity so as to avoid prosecution.  Bishop Myers, likewise, is going to the matt on this one, in a case where a cursory investigation shows he behaved without any regard to the safety of the children under his care and without any concern for an agreement he had made with prosecutors to keep child molester Fr. Fugee out of jail.  Does it appear as if Bishop Myers is standing firm to protect the Church?  No, as in Finn's case, it's to protect his own pride.

  • Bishops, apparently, don't give a damn about the truth.  The most liberating words ever spoken on earth are "The truth will set you free" (John 8:32).  But in a February letter to priests, Bishop Myers defends his decision to allow Fugee to disregard the agreement the bishop made with prosecutors by claiming that Fugee was "acquitted" of the charges against him.  Fugee was in fact acquitted of one charge, "endangering the welfare of a child" but convicted  of "aggravated criminal sexual conduct".  While this conviction was reversed on appeal over a technicality, a new trial was ordered and was avoided because of a plea agreement, the terms of which the archdiocese is now thumbing its nose at. In other words, had the defendant indeed been acquitted of the charges against him, none of this would be an issue.

  • The True Believers will stop at nothing to defend bad bishops.  They eat up stuff like this: demagogue Bill Donohue of the Catholic League begins his defense of Bishop Myers thus, "Left-wing Catholics, and ex-Catholics, tried in vain to get Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph to step down, and now they have their sights set on Newark Archbishop John Myers. Their goal is to bring down a bishop—any bishop."  Well, Bill, I'm no left-winger, I'm no ex-Catholic, and my goal is to reform the Church I love - oh, and to protect children from sexual abuse.  But the card that's played in these cases, apparently, is the "us vs. them" paranoia card.  We see this in America all the time.  Hate your opponent and you don't have to consider his position.

  • Again, the "media" is blamed for bias when the "media" can be bypassed entirely.  As with the Bishop Finn case, the original documents are available online.  But the True Believers refuse to read them.  One commenter on Mark Shea's site asserted that the police had forced a confession out of Fr. Fugee.  But, you see, he had not bothered to read the confession, which every person on earth can do by clicking this link.  A less intense interrogation one could not imagine.  But this is just another example of the "us vs. them" paranoia card.  If you don't want to admit that a priest happily fondled the genitals of an under-age boy, then tarnish the police force and the criminal justice system along with it.

And all I can say about this is what I said in Shea's combox regarding bishops who enable child abuse ... 

It is not surprising that our shepherds fall short of the high standards of the Christian Faith. It is surprising that they don't even rise to the low standards of the secular world.


chris said...

There are some straw man arguments being put forth: the issue is not that there is a denial of Fugee’s guilt or his agreement not to work with minors. Myers is in no way denying this. The issue is whether he has had any ministry with minors in violation of the agreement, article 4. ( There are only allegations at this point, by a local newspaper. Regardless of whether the paper may be motivated by anti-Catholic bias or not, the fact that people are automatically taking the allegations as proof that the agreement was violated, then constructing a whole narrative based on this is contrary to common sense and justice(innocent until proven guilty?).

The Archdiocese is stating that his presence near minors of which they know of has always been supervised, which is in conformity with the agreement. And we have to believe them until the contrary is proven, and we cannot immediately label it as an excuse or a lie. The civil authorities are certainly not admitting that this is fact, but will conduct an investigation. So how can others already conclude there is guilt or certianly make criticisms as though this were the case. If it is concluded that Fugee did violate the agreement, with the knowledge and consent of Myers or other diocesan officials, then we can level the criticisms.

One can add that it was the civil officials who offered the agreement for Fugee to continue in ministry and did not incarcerate him or at the least agreed to such. Yet it is strange people aren’t throwing stones at them. Why didn’t they disallow him any Church ministry or impose their own supervision or such? Bishops are also in a catch 22 situation: if they don’t dismiss the guy and try to keep tabs on him, they are blamed for harboring or abetting him. (In this regard putting Fugee in a position at the chancery is arguably a good idea as it is precisely a way to keep an eye on him. And not to mention that it is impossible to keep tabs on someone 24/7.) But if a bishop dismisses a guy then he commits something, they are blamed for not keeping an eye on him, letting him loose, etc.

Delia said...

Listen, Fugee should never have been allowed near minors, regardless of any agreements. "Supervision" by people who are long term buddies with the guy? Are they serious?

Priests like this need to go to jail. If that's not possible due to statute of limitations or whatever legal technicalities kept this animal out of jail, then they need to be sent to monasteries where they will have no contact with anyone. Let them sit in a monastic cell and pray 24/7. Someone can slip them their meals under the door. Or maybe we should just let them starve to death. Send them to their maker -- He'll set 'em straight.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Chris, if you don't want to believe the newspaper reports, there is ample photographic evidence that Fr. Fugee has been surrounding himself with minors.

And the plea agreement was satisfactory for all involved - it kept Fr. Fugee out of a criminal trial (which the archdiocese wanted) and out of contact with or ministry involving youth (which the county wanted).

And assigning Fr. Fugee to a desk job is one thing - but assistant to Priestly Formation???

Read my later post, which is more clear about what the archbishop did:

Chris said...

This still seems to prove my point. Why are the newspaper allegations taken unquestioned but Myers' statements taken as suspect, false, or misleading? The statements in the other post are unfounded accusations or at least speculation, e.g., that Myers “allowed” Fugee “back into youth ministry.” Even the newspaper article doesn’t allege that Myers approved of any alleged youth interaction beforehand, or learned of activity and then confirmed it, or ignored it; so how is this concluded? (At this point I think there is some indication of anti-Catholic sentiment behind the story, with an updated article invoking some democrat representatives in n.j. calling for myers to resign.)

And the "ample" photographic evidence is supposed to be the 3-4 photos on the newspaper web site, with no verification whatsoever surrounding them? Furthermore, is simply standing or sitting next to a minor, as in some of the pictures, a violation of the agreement? I think it may not be. We also do not know if a “chaperon” was right there, which would also question whether the agreement was violated. There is really only one photo which directly indicates an involvement at an event/retreat. If the civil authorities use these photos they will undoubtedly not just assume them as evidence, but verify the persons in them, ascertain their ages at the time, have them verify the circumstances, etc.

Again, there is little critical analysis when it comes to one side yet great criticism and unfair assumptions when it comes to the other; revealing a wish to appear as a champion of the good by rushing to condemn the archbishop. This is a general climate we are now in, to assume the worst and distance the priest, bishop, or whomever from everyone.

Kay Ebeling said...

Nice blog
-Kay Ebeling
city of angels blog

Tom Leith said...

Look, I like Bill Donohue -- I've had dinner with him. He's a lot different in person than that character he plays on Fox News (whom I dislike). It is almost like Stephen Colbert and Stephen Colbert. Bill can even be funny. I'm glad we have somebody around to rebut unfair charges against churchmen. But he shouldn't rebut fair charges.

Of course Archbishop Myers is under fire.

If the Church wishes to style herself a “perfect society” (self-contained, independent, even above the civil authority and an example for it) she’d better start acting like one and Bill, if you're reading this, you should be shouting the loudest about it my friend. After all, the best defense of religious and civil rights is to refrain from abusing them.


[scene: Archbishop Myer’s office.]
[Fr. Fugee and Msgr. Doran, Vicar General of the Diocese are waiting for him, and talking]

Msgr. Doran: Oh come on Mike! Youth retreats? An overnight trip to Canada? You see the position you have put the Archbishop in? You know you agreed never to work in youth ministry. What's he supposed to do now?

Fr. Fugee: I wasn't "working in youth ministry" [with air quotes] -- it isn't my "position" or anything. I was just helping out a couple of friends. Besides, that agreement with the County was years ago.

Archbishop Myers: [enters, carrying a newspaper and a file folder] What is this I hear about a trip to Canada with a bunch of kids? Is it true?

Fr. Fugee: Yes, your Excellency, it is true.

Archbishop Myers: Sancta Maria ora pro nobis peccatoribus! You will report on Saturday my son to Fr. Abbot at the Abbey of St. Benedict’s Nettles & Thorns where you will spend the remainder of your days. I’ll tell him to expect you and prepare a cell.

Fr. Fugee: Hell no, I won’t go! I didn't do anything wrong. Besides, I wasn't even in your Diocese.

Archbishop Myers: Very well then, since you reject my pastoral authority, I shall initiate the process of reducing you to the lay state and turn you over a layman to the the county. For now, go upstairs and tell Sr. Mary Francis that you'll be my guest here in the Episcopal Residence for the foreseeable future. You may go. Now.

John -- you stay -- I'm calling the prosecutor [hits speaker-phone button and dials] right now to see what can be done. And then you and I need to have a long talk about a few other men and what we're doing with them. Hello, yes, may I speak with Mr. Gramiccioni? Its important. [pause] Archbishop Myers and Msgr Doran. [pause] Yes, I'll hold.

[face to black] [scene]

But that’s not how it went, is it? And what is the Bishop doing now? Dissembling. Spinning. Defending. But defending what, exactly? “The True Faith?” Hardly. Is this what we want to defend?

St. Thomas Becket, pray for us.

Tom Leith said...

Uh Oh. Should I ask how my play is?

Steve Dalton said...

Bp. Myers behavior is no surprise to me. When he was the Bishop of Peoria, his coolness toward the victims of clerical sexual abuse was well known.

Joey Higgins said...

Kevin, again, thank you for this information. I think this is part of the community policing itself to a certain degree. If we are vigilant here, then we can hopefully limit further abuse in the future.

Chris, you're being extremely daft. You're arguing for technicalities whether someone "broke an agreement" that arguably shouldn't have been made.

The only question that matters is: did Fugee commit any sexual assault against anyone? If the answer is yes, then we don't need to discuss agreements or plea bargains - we need to protect/back the attacked and remove the wolves from the flock.

pachri7 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pachri7 said...

I'd still defend Bishop Finn tooth and nail! I read a multiple page legal document posted online in regards to the case. I got the impression that Bishop Finn was a target craftily set up by Lucifer who was enraged that the good bishop has put a major dent in the scheme of things in liberal KC. (As for Bishop Meyers, I don't have enough information to comment).