Mark Mueller

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Archbishop's Pricey Retirement Home Spurs Giving Backlash

by Mark Mueller 03-04-2014

3,000-sq.-foot addition to Archbishop John J. Myers’ summer house. Photo by Mark Mueller, courtesy of The Star-Ledger. Via RNS.

Every year, without fail, Joe Ferri writes a $100 check to the Archdiocese of Newark for the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal, a fundraising drive that benefits a variety of religious causes.

This year, Ferri left the empty envelope on his pew at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Bloomfield. He’s done writing checks.

“If this is the only way I can be heard, so be it,” said Ferri, 70. “I’m disgusted. The archdiocese is not going to get another penny out of me.”

Two weeks after The Star-Ledger disclosed that Archbishop John J. Myers is building a 3,000-square-foot addition on the expansive home where he will spend his retirement, it appears the work will cost the archdiocese far more than the $500,000 allotted for construction.

Parishioners, infuriated by what they call a tone-deaf show of excess at a time when Catholic schools are closing and when the pope has called on bishops to shed the trappings of luxury, say they’re cutting off contributions entirely or sharply curtailing them.

The Priest Who Faced Down the Federal Government -- and Won

by Mark Mueller 12-06-2013

Father Ray Leonard. Photo by Nancy Reynolds/ for The Star-Ledger, via RNS

The Rev. Ray Leonard knew not to wear the clerical collar identifying him as a Roman Catholic priest. It almost certainly would have gotten him deported.

He knew not to celebrate Mass, hear confession, or baptize a child. The acts might have resulted in harassment — or worse, arrest and imprisonment — for the families Leonard cared about.

During a decade spent teaching and helping the needy in some of China’s most impoverished and oppressed regions, the New Jersey priest learned what it was like to live in a land without religious freedom.

It kindled a greater appreciation for his liberties at home. Which is why Leonard, 51, bristled at the U.S. government when it told him he couldn’t hold services at a Georgia naval base during last month’s government shutdown. Leonard, a civilian contractor on the base wasn’t deemed an “essential” employee.

N.J. Priest Faces Judge for Violating Ban on Access to Children

by Mark Mueller 05-21-2013

Gavel. Photo courtesy Africa Studio/shutterstock.com

Wearing a bright orange prison jumpsuit, the priest at the center of the furor in the Archdiocese in Newark made his first court appearance on Tuesday on charges he violated a court-sanctioned lifetime ban on working with children.

The Rev. Michael Fugee, 52, stood for the brief hearing as Bergen County Assistant Prosecutor Demetra Maurice read the seven counts against him.

Maurice is the same prosecutor who authored the 2007 agreement with Fugee and the Archdiocese of Newark that bars him from working with children in any capacity as long as he remains a priest.

Accused Priest at Center of N.J. Scandal Resigns

by Mark Mueller 05-06-2013
Religion News Service photo by Ed Murray/The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.

Newark Archbishop John J. Myers faces fierce criticism. Religion News Service photo by Ed Murray/The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.

NEWARK, N.J. — The Roman Catholic priest at the center of a public furor enveloping Newark Archbishop John J. Myers has resigned from ministry, a spokesman for the archdiocese said May 2.

The Rev. Michael Fugee, who attended youth retreats and heard confessions from minors in defiance of a lifetime ban on such behavior, submitted his request to leave ministry on Thursday, said the spokesman, Jim Goodness. Myers promptly accepted the resignation, Goodness said.

Fugee, 52, remains a priest but no longer has authority to say Mass, perform sacramental work, or represent himself as an active priest, Goodness said. It was not immediately clear if Fugee or Myers would petition the Vatican to remove him from the priesthood altogether, a process known as laicization.

Asked if Myers had requested that Fugee step aside, Goodness said, “I only know that he offered to leave ministry and the archbishop accepted.”

N.J. Catholics Outraged Over Accused Priest’s Access to Children

by Mark Mueller 04-30-2013

Newark Archbishop John J. Myers is facing fierce criticism for shielding a priest with abuse allegations. Photo courtesy RNS.

Amid calls for a Vatican investigation, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers is facing fierce criticism for his handling of a priest who attended youth retreats and heard confessions from minors in defiance of a court-ordered lifetime ban on ministry to children.

At St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Colts Neck, where the Rev. Michael Fugee had been spending time with a youth group, angry parishioners said they were never told about Fugee’s background, and they questioned Myers’ defense of the priest, the subject of a lengthy story in The Star-Ledger.

“It’s complete craziness that the church can let this happen,” said John Santulli, 38, a father of two at St. Mary’s. “I’m a softball coach, and I need a background check just to get on the field. Every single person I spoke to today said, ‘Oh my God. I didn’t know about this.’ It’s incomprehensible.”

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