Fellow Catholics and all others who have been following this story -
I am going to do what Jesus Christ wants me to do and what the saints and those aspiring to sanctity have always done. I am going to repent. And I am going to do so publicly, both as a way of bringing humility into my life, and also as a lesson to all of you. "Be imitators of me as I am of Christ," as St. Paul said (1 Cor. 11:1). As a bishop, that is my primary role, in fact my only role: I am to imitate Christ for your sakes.
It is a job I have not been very good at. I'm afraid almost every single one of my brother bishops can say that; indeed almost every single one of you, my listeners, can say that. So since we're all steeped in sin, and since we all have such a desperate need of a savior, let me begin.
Over ten years ago, one of the priests of this diocese got in legal trouble for doing something that caused a lot of damage. This priest had some psychological problems, as all abusers do. For one thing, he freely admitted that he had homosexual desires - and while it's not politically correct in this day and age to call these desires what they are (perversions), and while the Church has always recognized that every sinner is perverse and corrupt in his heart (not just those who commit sodomy), it is nevertheless a disorder of love and affect to seek sexual fulfillment in any way other than through marriage and a family. My Church is the only institution that will continue to be bold enough to say that, even in the face of the coming and present persecution. So we begin with the fact that this priest has a problem, and it's one that many people wrestle with.
Perhaps "wrestle" is not the right word here. For this priest not only had a same-sex-attraction, he acted on it, and did so in a way that is not easy to talk about. He liked to wrestle with 14-year-old boys. That's right, he liked to wrestle with 14-year-old boys, and in doing so he (on at least two occasions) grabbed a boy's genitals. This he found arousing, and this one of his victims (for that's what this boy was) found appalling.
Imagine if you can for a moment what this boy went through. The priest admitted that he did this very thing to the boy at one of the boy's family gatherings (I know, it's difficult to imagine a priest engaged in such horseplay with a teen-aged boy at a family function, but bear with me). The first occasion Father grabbed the boy's crotch, the boy moved away but said nothing. The second occasion Father grabbed the boy's crotch, the boy became indignant and refused to speak to him for the remainder of their time together.
Now it may be easy for many of us to write this off as something minor, but to have a "father" who is serving as a father figure and confidant to your mother - your mother who is a single mom and who looks to this priest as an important helper and guide for your family - to have such a man, a grown man, show homosexual interest in you and to touch your private parts in front of your mother and grandmother, no less (as this man admitted to the police in his confession) is a very disturbing thing. It is a crime. And it is a crime because it does lasting psychological damage.
And it is for this reason that, difficult as it must have been for the parties involved, the police were brought into the picture. The priest was charged and convicted by a jury of aggravated sexual conduct. He was sentenced to five years probation. Later, an appellate court vacated the verdict on a technicality and a new trial was ordered. So that another conviction could be avoided, the defendant entered into an agreement with the prosecutor - an agreement that I knew of, supported, endorsed and guaranteed in my role as archbishop.
The scandal here (bad as all of the foregoing details are) is that I allowed this priest to violate the terms of his agreement, thus showing contempt for the law and thus putting innocent children at risk. The defendant was supposed to avoid any unsupervised contact with children, any youth ministry, youth retreats, hearing confessions of anyone under the age of 18, and so forth. You can read the entire agreement online. It is quite reasonable and works toward the good - which is something our Lord always wants us to do. But I allowed the priest to do all those things.
And not only did I sin in thumbing my nose at a binding agreement with representatives of the citizens of my state, not only did I put innocent children at risk; worse than that, I tried to rationalize my bad behavior in a letter I wrote to the priests of my archdiocese. In that letter, I stated that the priest in question had been acquitted of his crimes, when he had not. He had, in fact, been acquitted on one count and convicted on another. I also said that the charges against him had been "dismissed", which they were after the first verdict was vacated, but only because we agreed to removing the defendant from any future contact with children and teens. In other words, in my official communication with the very good men who trust me and who look to me as a leader and as a shepherd, I played fast and loose with the truth, and I am very sorry for that, for God is Truth (John 14:6) and the Truth will set us free (John 8:32). In addition, I allowed my spokesman, Mr. Goodness, to use half-truth, legal jargon and innuendo to defend me from criticism that was apt and much deserved. And to top it all off, when this suddenly became a national story, I allowed Bill Donohue of the Catholic League and others to attack my critics by questioning their motives in criticizing me and thus to defend my indefensible behavior. Thus the effects of my sin spread even to those good people who were seeking justice in this situation.
My friends, I ask you and I ask God to forgive me. Please pray for everyone involved: the priest (Fr. Fugee, who has since resigned from active ministry), the victim, and those who have been misled by my well-intentioned but misguided defenders. And please pray for me, a sinner.
When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night
your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.[b]
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:3-5)