HACKENSACK, N.J. - A judge on Tuesday ordered a New Jersey priest held while a grand jury considers whether he violated a legal agreement to stay away from children.
The Rev. Michael Fugee, who recently resigned from the Archdiocese of Newark, flouted a 2003 order he reached with the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office that allowed him to return to ministry after being convicted on charges that he fondled a boy, authorities said.
The major stipulation of the agreement was that Fugee be barred from having unsupervised contact with minors or a job that required him to oversee or minister to children under 18.
Despite that, Fugee became a fixture at a youth group in Colts Neck, hearing confession from minors and attending overnight retreats.
Prosecutors charged Fugee with seven counts of contempt of a judicial order. They claim he heard confessions from minors seven times between April 2010 and December 2012 at various churches, a retreat center, and a private home.
"Michael Fugee purposely and knowingly disobeyed a judicial order," said Assistant Prosecutor Demetra Maurice.
Judge Patrick J. Roma ordered Fugee held on $25,000 bail. The case now goes to a grand jury. A message was left for Fugee's attorney but not returned.
"We take these allegations seriously and will fully cooperate with law enforcement authorities in their investigation," the archdiocese said in a statement.
Fugee remains a priest, but he is officially without faculties, which means he cannot dress as a priest or represent himself as one.
In the prior case, Fugee confessed to police that while on vacation in Virginia with a teenage boy and his mother, both parishioners, Fugee wrestled with the boy, "grabbed his crotch," and said he was sexually excited by what he'd done.
Fugee's lawyers said the confession was coerced, but a jury convicted him of aggravated sexual assault in 2003.
The conviction was thrown out after courts revised jury instructions tied to a procedural aspect of the case. Rather than retrying Fugee, prosecutors entered into an agreement that allowed him to return to active ministry but barred him from having unsupervised contact with or overseeing minors.
The archdiocese said an internal review board examined Fugee's case and determined that sexual abuse did not take place. Fugee was allowed to return to ministry. He was placed in a hospital where the archdiocese said there was no pediatric ward and then in an administrative job at archdiocesan headquarters.
"We followed the guidance and recommendation of the prosecutor in returning him to ministry," said James Goodness, a spokesman for the archdiocese.
Fugee was longtime friends with youth minsters at St. Mary's Church in Colts Neck. A parishioner there, Margaret Franklin, said Fugee attended at least three youth retreats with her children.
That church is in the Diocese of Trenton, and the Archdiocese of Newark was to contact the diocese if Fugee appeared at the church.
But Fugee never told the archdiocese what he was doing, and the archdiocese said it did not know he had contact with children until contacted by a reporter for the Newark Star-Ledger in late April.