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Fr. Fugee does not hold a ‘prestigious’ ecclesiastical appointment

February 4, 2013

Fr. Michael Fugee admitted to illegal sexual acts against a minor and is apparently under court-mandated restrictions in regard to being around minors. Outrage is being expressed that Fugee was recently appointed “co-director of the Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests” for the Archdiocese of Newark. Anne Barrett Doyle of BishopAccountability.org described the appointment as showing “breathtaking arrogance” and “an alarming disdain for common sense”, continuing, “no reasonable person would give a prestigious assignment to a priest deemed by law enforcement to be a danger to children.”

I am open to arguments that, depending on the facts of the case, clergy convicted of or admitting to sexual misconduct with a minor not just be refused assignment but even be dismissed from the clerical state (c. 1395 § 2), but, that being understood, if canon and civil law allow such clerics any assignment, one can hardly attack a cleric’s appointment as “co-director of the Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests” on the grounds that it is a “prestigious assignment”. No disrespect intended to the men and women serving in such roles, but, in terms of arch/diocesan structures, such offices rank pretty low on the ecclesial bureaucrat’s prestige list.

After the arch/bishop himself (c. 375), the highest office in an arch/diocese is the vicar general (c. 475). That’s a prestigious office. As a rule, there is only one vicar general at a time. The next highest office would be episcopal vicar (c. 476). There can be several of these serving at the same time. Next would come, at least in the United States, the chancellor (c. 482), and in some places, chancellors wield more influence than episcopal vicars. Coordinating the work of these officers is, in many places, the moderator of the curia (c. 473), and where such office is filled, it is typically a very important post. Setting aside the special work of tribunals (and judicial vicars are often influential and respected priests in the local church), the members of the college of consultors (c. 502) carry great influence as do, to a lesser extent, the members of the presbyteral council (c. 495).  I could extend this list, but I think my point is made: all of these arch/diocesan officers tend to exercise considerably more canonical authority and practical influence in arch/diocesan life than would the director (correction: co-director) of a clergy continuing education office.

So, as I say, one can question whether a molesting priest should have any assignment in a local Church, but one can’t criticize this appointment on the grounds that the co-director of a clergy education office holds a “prestigious” ecclesiastical appointment. Because he doesn’t.

Updated, 5 feb 2013:

Dcn. Greg Kandra posts an email he received from a Church worker distressed over Fugee’s appointment to an archdiocesan post. He or she writes “Child protection people at every diocese have been killing themselves to keep out of church ministry anybody with a hint of a pedophilia problem…” and cites from the Essential Norms VIII: “When even a single act of sexual abuse by a priest or deacon is admitted or is established after an appropriate process in accord with canon law, the offending priest or deacon will be removed permanently from ecclesiastical ministry, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state, if the case so warrants”, e-mailer’s emphasis.

Distinguo.

Fugee holds what I would regard as an “ecclesiastical office”, at least in the broad sense (c. 145). But, is every ecclesiastical office an ecclesiastical ministry? Many arch/diocesan jobs are not ministerial in nature, at least not as that term is popularly understood; these jobs might be important posts such as finance officer (c. 492), or they might be minor posts, such ecclesiastical notary (c. 484). But, while these office-holders need to meet the general requirements for ecclesiastical office, obviously, they do not need to satisfy additional formal and/or conventional requirements for ecclesiastical ministry, because these folks are not engaged in ecclesiastical ministry, commonly understood to imply a post whereby one directly serves the People of God as a minister of the truth and grace of Jesus Christ. Fugee’s chancery job does not seem to place him in any contact with any people other than priests, and they all know his record.

So, by all means, argue about whether a cleric who commits sexual crimes (whether technically pedophilic, homosexual, or heterosexual in nature) should hold an arch/diocesan office (assuming one has enough facts to make such arguments responsibly), but don’t claim that this appointment places Fugee in ministry. Good arguments suggest that it doesn’t.

Other posts: Tom Crowe at CatholicVote.org;

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