Newark, N.J., May 1, 2013 (CNA) -
The Archdiocese of Newark asserts that a local publication is inaccurately portraying the continued ministry of a priest who was accused of abusing a minor.
On April 28, New Jersey newspaper The Star-Ledger published a story saying that the Newark archdiocese is allowing Father Michael Fugee, who was accused of sexual abuse of a teenage boy in 2001, to continue working with children.
The archdiocesan communications director, James Goodness, told CNA April 29 that “we have not assigned him to anything that places him in a situation where he is unsupervised with minors or in fact has any ministry with minors.”
Diocesan-approved incidents have always been supervised and in accordance with an agreement with a local prosecutor's office, Goodness said, and other occasions when Fr. Fugee has had supervised contact with minors were done without the archdiocese being involved in the decision-making process.
In 2001, Fr. Fugee told police he had twice groped a teenage boy's crotch while they were wrestling in the presence of the boy's family members. One instance took place while he was on vacation with the boy's family in Virginia in 2000, he said, and the other was about a year prior to that.
He was charged with criminal sexual contact and endangering a child's welfare. A jury convicted him of aggravated sexual contact in 2003, but in 2006 an appellate court reversed the conviction, saying the trial court had given inadequate guidance to the jury. During his trial, he had protested that his confession to the police was false and that he had lied.
The priest came to an agreement with the Bergen County Prosecutor and the Archdiocese of Newark's vicar general requiring him to undergo two years of “sex-offender specific counseling/therapy.”
That 2007 agreement allows Fr. Fugee to remain in ministry so long as “he shall not have any unsupervised contact with or any duties that call for the supervision/ministry of any child or children under the age of 18...as long as he is a priest and/or employed/assigned within the Roman Catholic Church.”
“It is agreed and understood that Michael Fugee shall not accept any position...that allows him to have any unsupervised contact with or to supervise or minister to any child/minor under the age of 18 or work in any position in which children are involved,” the agreement adds.
“This includes, but is not limited to, presiding over a parish, involvement with a youth group, religious education/parochial school, CCD, confessions of children, youth choir, youth retreats and day care.”
According to the Star-Ledger article by Mark Mueller, Fr. Fugee has attended two youth retreats, in 2010 and 2012, and has gone on pilgrimages.
“What we do know is that Fr. Fugee did participate in a couple different retreats over a period of time...but he had been asked to come in at the last minute to hear confessions and say Mass with another priest,” Goodness said.
“And the reason he was called at the last minute, is the priest that the parish had lined up for the schedule had backed out at the last minute, so the organizers of the retreat had called Fr. Fugee, because they're friends, and asked if he could come down and do this for them.”
“So he came down and then came back, he did not stay over.”
The retreats were held by St. Mary's in Colts Neck, which is in the Trenton diocese. Fr. Fugee was called to assist at the retreats by the parish's youth ministers, with whom he is good friends.
He has heard the confessions of minors on these retreats, according to The Star-Ledger. The article included Facebook photos of Fr. Fugee with minors taken on the retreats. Fr. Fugee's Facebook page, accessible April 29, was no longer reachable April 30.
The pilgrimages in which Fr. Fugee has participated are organized by a group Fr. Fugee has been a part of since before he entered seminary.
Goodness said the pilgrimages, to Quebec, include adults and that Fr. Fugee's participation has not been “as an official person. It's just as a participant in the pilgrimage itself, and there were always people around while he was there.”
The communications director added that while Fr. Fugee has contact with minors, it is always with the supervision of other adults and that the archdiocese prohibits his interaction alone with children.
The Newark archdiocese believes “firmly that we have been complying with the terms of the memorandum of understanding with the prosecutor's office,” he said.
Goodness affirmed that the decision-making process to have Fr. Fugee participate in events at St. Mary's was done without the involvement of the Newark chancery.
However, he added that “Fr. Fugee understands very clearly that he cannot be as spontaneous about these things as he may have been. So I don't foresee that we'll be talking about anything like this ever again.”
“We think he is fulfilling his role here within the diocese, and these were extenuating circumstances, they were out of the ordinary. They were not part of what the archdiocese has done in terms of abiding by the agreements. We have abided, we believe.”
The archdiocese has not had any complaints about Fr. Fugee since he was re-instated in ministry, and nor has the Bergen county prosecutor's office made any contact with the archdiocese about the priest.
“We're prepared to discuss everything with them, and meet in a cordial and professional environment,” Goodness said. “If they are interested in learning more, we certainly are prepared and ready to sit down with them to help them understand what our thinking is and why we think we're abiding by the terms, and to get their input as well.”
Mueller's articles characterize Newark archbishop John J. Myers as not fulfilling his responsibility as bishop to protect young people.
“That is clearly not the case,” Goodness said. The archdiocese reports all accusations of sexual abuse directly to local prosecutors.
“We have a very strong review board of individuals who are lay people with law enforcement, investigative, and clinical backgrounds...they take very seriously their obligations.”
After the criminal issues had been dealt with, the review board examined all the facts and determined that sexual abuse had not occurred in Fr. Fugee's case, and that he could be in ministry.
“Not content with that, Archbishop Myers took everything, the court case and the review board materials, and sent them to Rome,” seeking the advice of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which deals with such cases.
“Rome returned with documentation saying we had done everything we should be doing, and that in fact the review and their conclusions were correct,” Goodness said.
“So this archbishop does very clearly value and understand the importance of working with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on allegations of sexual abuse.”
Sacramento, Calif., May 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
A California bill ensuring that health care coverage for infertility treatments would be provided to same-sex couples is a violation of the basic human right for a mother and a father, critics charge.
“What we're concerned about is sperm and egg donation in general, for the purpose of creating children,” Bill May, president of Catholics for the Common Good, told CNA April 30.
He said the practice deprives these children of “knowing and being cared for by their mother or father, or both. It's a violation of a fundamental human right, and it needs to be stopped.”
The bill, AB-460, amends California statute to say that “coverage for the treatment of infertility shall be offered and provided without discrimination on the basis of age, ancestry, color, disability, domestic partner status, gender, gender expression, gender identity, genetic information, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation.”
Health insurance policies in the state must already offer coverage for infertility treatment, except for in vitro fertilization. The bill will mandate that insurance plans for infertility cover same-sex couples and the elderly.
California statute determines infertility either by a condition recognized by a physician as a cause of infertility, or by “the inability to conceive a pregnancy or to carry a pregnancy to a live birth after a year or more of regular sexual relations without contraception.”
Because California considers any inability to conceive after a year of “regular sexual relations” to be “infertility,” no medical diagnosis is needed.
The bill has a hearing in the Committee on Health of the California State Assembly, the lower house of the legislature, on April 30. If passed, it will go to the Assembly floor and then to the Senate. The measure was authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a Democratic representative from San Francisco.
Ammiano introduced the bill because “insurance companies are not complying with current state law that prohibits patients from being treated differently based on sex, marital status, and sexual orientation and current law that requires registered domestic partners to be treated as spouses in regard to fertility treatments,” according to a fact sheet from the California legislature.
Ammiano calls it discrimination that same-sex couples, even when the partners are physiologically fertile, not receive infertility coverage “based on not having an opposite sex married partner with whom to have one year of regular sexual relations.”
Carlos Alcalá, a spokesman for Ammiano, told The Weekly Standard that under the bill, “if a plan covers egg donation costs for a heterosexual couple unable to conceive without it, it would have to cover those costs for a gay male couple as well.”
The Capitol Resource Institute opposes the bill, claiming it would violate the freedom of religion, conscience, and thought of “many medical professionals and employers.” California's Catholic Conference also opposes the measure.
Existing legislation, which the bill not not meaningfully alter, ensures that employers and insurers who are or are owned by religious organizations, would not have to offer forms of infertility treatment “in a manner inconsistent with the religious organization's religious and ethical principles.”
May emphasized that the bill will contribute to the conception of children who are alienated from their biological parents, and that every child has a right to know and be cared for by his parents.
“This practice turns children into commodities, into objects for the fulfillment of adults,” he said.
“This practice, of creating children from sperm and egg donors, has consequences. It's an injustice to the child, depriving them of a fundamental human right.”
Washington D.C., May 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Although President Barack Obama told a Planned Parenthood conference last week that abortion opponents are stuck in the past, former clinic manager Abby Johnson says the youth of the pro-life movement suggests otherwise.
“We’ve seen the pro-life movement gaining. We see the abortion movement declining,” Johnson told CNA April 30.
She suggested that the president may not know those who are in the pro-life movement, such as members of Students for Life of America or the youthful pro-life investigative reporting group Live Action.
“We’re full of young people,” she added. “I think he would be surprised to learn who is really leading up the pro-life movement and what we’re really about.”
Johnson is a former manager of a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Bryan, Texas, who left her job in 2009 after witnessing an abortion live via ultrasound. She now encourages abortion clinic workers to leave their jobs through her organization, And Then There Were None.
She commented on Obama’s April 26 remarks delivered to almost 1,000 supporters of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America at a Washington, D.C., hotel. Obama is the first sitting president to address the organization which performs about 300,000 abortions each year.
“It’s disappointing that a president would make an address to our country’s largest abortion provider, but it’s not surprising at all,” Johnson said, adding that the president is politically dependent on abortion supporting donors and abortion providers like Planned Parenthood.
In his address, Obama described the pro-life movement as backward-looking and suited to the 1950s. He said Planned Parenthood is dedicated to the principle that “women should be allowed to make their own decisions about their own health.”
However, Johnson contended that it is the abortion industry that is waning.
“The abortion numbers are declining nationally,” she said. “We see clinics closing, Planned Parenthood affiliates closing. Many affiliates are having to merge for financial reasons.”
She also rejected the president’s contention that Planned Parenthood is dedicated to women’s health.
“They’ve shown time and time again that their motivation is pushing abortion and selling abortion to women who knock on their doors.”
The organization has put out a new mandate requiring every affiliate to perform abortions by 2014, she said, and it also has a quota system for abortions that clinics must meet.
“If they were really just about women’s health care, they wouldn’t be doing everything they can to promote abortion,” she charged.
Johnson also observed that abortion providers and supporters are not all irreligious.
President Obama closed his remarks to Planned Parenthood with a prayer: “God bless you!” Johnson said this should be a reminder that the organization’s employees “believe they are doing God’s work.”
“People who work at Planned Parenthood or in the abortion industry believe that they are doing sacred work. Planned Parenthood has a large board of clergy, current or former ministers, that are supporting employees,” she said.
“As someone who worked in the abortion industry, I get it. I used to think I was doing God’s work too. I completely believed that I was a Christian and following God’s will,” Johnson continued. “I understand how people can be deceived in this way. Even our president. Even clergy. That’s just the way that sin works.”
She now wants to help Planned Parenthood employees realize they can leave the abortion industry.
“There is a place for them to go. They don’t have to feel like they’re trapped,” she said.
“I believe, first of all, through my own personal experience, that there is something better out there for them. They were born to do something much bigger and much better than working in the abortion industry.”
Recent abortion clinic scandals including deaths and malpractice at abortion facilities, financial fraud and the current murder trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell are other good reasons for abortion workers to quit, Johnson explained.
“I want them to know that they can be held responsible for that,” she said. “There’s no time like the present to get out of the abortion industry and start living a better life.”
Vatican City, May 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Marking the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker, Pope Francis said at his General Audience this week that work should serve man and contribute to his dignity, rather than man serving his work.
“How many people worldwide are victims of this type of slavery, in which the person is at the service of his or her work, while work should offer a service to people so they may have dignity,” the Pope said May 1 at St. Peter's Square.
He added a plea to “my brothers and sisters in faith and all men and women of good will for a decisive choice to combat trafficking in persons, which is a part of 'slave labor.'”
Rather than a restricted view of “slave labor” focusing only on enslavement and human trafficking, the Pope said that any “work that enslaves” could be considered “slave labor.”
Work should instead respect the inherent worth of the human person, as Christ learned growing up from his legal father, St. Joseph.
“Jesus is born and lives in a family, in the Holy Family, learning the craft of carpenter from Saint Joseph in his workshop in Nazareth, sharing with him the commitment, effort, satisfaction, and also the difficulties of every day.”
Pope Francis said this is a reminder for us of the “dignity and importance” of labor. “Work is part of God's loving plan,” he said, and the Lord calls us to “cultivate and care for all the goods of creation,” thereby participating in the “work of creation.”
“Work is fundamental to the dignity of a person. Work, to use an image, 'anoints' us with dignity, fills us with dignity, makes us similar to God, who has worked and still works, who always acts; it gives us the ability to maintain ourselves, our family, to contribute to the growth of our nation.”
The Holy Father then reflected on the unemployment afflicting so many, which he said is often due to “a purely economic conception of society, which seeks selfish profit, beyond the parameters of social justice.”
In light of this situation, he called for solidarity among all persons, for politicians to encourage employment out of care “for the dignity of the person,” and for people everywhere to maintain hope.
“St. Joseph also experienced moments of difficulty, but he never lost faith and was able to overcome them, in the certainty that God never abandons us,” he remarked.
Pope Francis exhorted young people to be committed to their daily duties – study, work, friendship and aid to others – reminding them that “your future also depends on how you live these precious years of your life.”
“Do not be afraid of commitment, of sacrifice” he told them, “and do not look with fear towards the future; keep your hope alive: there is always a light on the horizon.”
He concluded by reflecting that St. Joseph and Mary both focused their attention on Christ, and they are models for us.
“To listen to the Lord, we must learn to contemplate, feel His constant presence in our lives and we must stop and converse with Him, give him space in prayer,” he said. “Let us remember the Lord more in our daily life!”
Noting that May is dedicated to Our Lady, Pope Francis reminded his listeners that the Rosary and the Hail Mary lead us to contemplate the mysteries of Christ, “that is, to reflect on the key moments of his life, so that, as with Mary and St. Joseph, he is the center of our thoughts, of our attention and our actions.”
“It would be nice if, especially in this month of May, we could pray the Holy Rosary together in the family, with friends, in the parish, or some prayer to Jesus and the Virgin Mary!” he suggested. “Praying together is a precious moment that further strengthens family life, friendship!”
Washington D.C., May 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - No news has emerged of the two kidnapped Orthodox bishops in Syria, more than a week since their disappearance, and reports have now surfaced that one is in grave need of medications for his health conditions.
“We still do not know where the two archbishops are or who has taken them,” a spokesman for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Aleppo told Aid to the Church in Need April 29.
Concerns are escalating because one of the men – Archbishop John Ibrahim – requires medicine for high blood pressure and diabetes, the spokesman explained, and “it is a life-threatening problem if he does not receive his medicine.”
Archbishop Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Archbishop Paul Yagizi of the Greek Orthodox Church were kidnapped April 22 near Aleppo by armed men who apparently killed their driver, Deacon Fatha' Allah Kabboud.
It remains unclear who carried out the kidnapping. The Syrian government and rebel groups have both traded accusations over who is to blame.
The bishops were abducted on their way back from the Turkish border, where they were negotiating the release of two priests, Fathers Michael Kayyal and Maher Mahfouz, who had themselves been kidnapped Feb. 9.
“What is so sad about this is that both men were among those working hardest for peace and yet in this time of conflict they are among those paying the highest price,” the spokesman said.
“There are many Christians being kidnapped now and this is the first time where we have absolutely no clue about what has happened, where nobody has taken responsibility for the abduction.”
The Syrian civil war entered its second year a month ago, and the country's Christian minority has been caught in its midst.
Many Syrian Christians live in Damascus, Aleppo and Homs, all of which are cities strongly contested by the government and the rebels. Many have fled to nearby Lebanon.
Lima, Peru, May 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Family members and rescue workers are crediting God for what they described as the miraculous rescue of five women who survived a recent hot air balloon crash in Peru.
“Training and God’s help made us victorious,” said Julissa Laguna, the pilot of the military helicopter that found five women who lived through an April 28 hot air balloon crash in the ocean south of Lima.
Rescuers were able to rescue five survivors on April 29. The body of the pilot was found washed up on a beach, while a seventh passenger remains missing.
Laguna said it was a “miracle” that the rescue team found the women, who survived nine hours at sea despite hypothermia and exhaustion.
She explained that they spotted the survivors with their own eyes and without the aid of any kind of radar or electronic equipment.
“The sky was overcast and we feared they were already dead,” Laguna recounted. “Suddenly, the co-pilot saw movement in the sea and after a scary maneuver we found the women. It was the most exciting moment of my life.”
Norka Quezada, whose 17-year-old daughter Francesca Maldonado was among the rescued survivors, told reporters that she has “never experienced such anguish” as she felt during the hours that the teenager was missing.
“My daughter is alive and that’s what matters,” she said.
Aurora Toledo, the mother of two other survivors, explained that during their moments of anguish, “we never lost faith and hope in God.”
Turning to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the rosary, she said, “we never stopped praying to God for my daughters.”
Toledo thanked the rescuers, especially the members of the Peruvian navy, as well as all those who offered their aid and support during the difficult time.
She also voiced gratitude to “so many friends in Peru and abroad for their prayers.”
Washington D.C., May 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - Critics slammed the FDA’s decision to make the Plan B One-Step morning-after pill available without a prescription to teenagers as young as 15, saying the pill is dangerous for young women and can act as an abortion drug.
“Once again, the health of young women is being sacrificed on the altar of ‘choice,’” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America, said April 30.
Anna Higgins, director of the Family Research Council’s Center for Human Dignity, said the decision “shows an alarming lack of concern for the safety of young girls, the fundamental rights of parents and concerns of the medical community.”
Higgins warned that the easy availability of the drug means that the women at most risk for sexual abuse and sexually transmitted infections will be less likely to have medical supervision and medical screenings. She cited a 2010 U.K. study that found a spike in sexually transmitted infection rates among teens after Plan B’s availability was increased.
The Food and Drug Administration lowered the age for over-the-counter sale of the drug from 17 to 15 on April 30. Purchasers must prove their age through some form of identification document, such as a driver’s license, passport or birth certificate.
The Plan B One-Step website says the drug primarily works to prevent the release of an egg from the ovary, reducing the possibility of pregnancy if taken within three days after sexual relations. However, if an egg has already been released, the company says it is possible that the drug may work by preventing the implantation in the womb, thereby ending the life of the newly formed human embryo.
That possibility drew intense objections from pro-life advocates like Hawkins, who denounced Plan B as “a dangerous abortion-inducing drug.”
“Girls who aren’t even old enough to drive themselves to the pharmacy are now being given free access to a megadose of a pill that ranks as a Group I carcinogen by the World Health Organization,” she explained.
Hawkins also warned that the drug is associated with blood clots, heart attacks and strokes, as well as triple the risk of ectopic pregnancy.
She objected to such a powerful and potentially dangerous drug being provided without parental permission or notification.
The FDA statement on the new rule cited a study submitted by the drugmaker Teva which said that women 15 years and older are able to understand that the drug is not for routine use and does not protect against sexually transmitted infections.
However, Higgins cautioned that over-the-counter sales could encourage unsafe repeat use.
“There is no good reason to believe that young girls understand that this drug is designed to be used only once per month and is not a substitute for oral contraception,” she said.
She added that the effects of taking the drug during puberty are unknown as there have been no studies on the subject.
In addition, Higgins charged that the decision undermines parents’ rights to help make medical decisions for their minor children.
“Parents have every right to be involved in any health decisions that affect their children. No parent wants his or her daughter exposed to a potentially dangerous medication without their consent,” she said.
She stressed that government policy should encourage parents and teens to communicate about the medical and moral issues involved in sexual behavior.
The FDA said its decision is independent of a federal judge’s April 2013 order that the federal agency remove all age restrictions on over-the-counter sales of Plan B One-Step.
An FDA panel had previously tried to recommend lifting all age limits on the drug in 2011. However, Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, overruled the recommendation, citing “significant cognitive and behavioral differences” between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age, which may affect their ability to use the drug properly.
Prominent abortion advocacy groups have also blasted the FDA’s most recent decision, arguing that the change is not broad enough. They criticized the minimum age requirement and the identification requirement for purchasing the drug over-the-counter.
“These are daunting and sometimes insurmountable hoops women are forced to jump through,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.
She joined leaders of NARAL Pro-Choice America in urging the FDA to remove all age restrictions on the morning-after pill, allowing children of any age to purchase it over-the-counter.