Special Report: Devil in Rome premieres Monday, Aug. 22 at 8 PM ET
When New Jersey Abp. John J. Myers retired in 2017 — with a career scarred by sex abuse settlements and protection of predator priests — he went to live in a lavish estate in upscale Hunterdon County — a 4,500-square-foot home on 8.2 wooded acres, with five bedrooms, two elevators, a swimming pool, whirlpool, three-car garage, three fireplaces, and a gallery that took up the whole of the third floor — all of it funded by Church money.
Myers paid out two sex abuse settlements on behalf of Cdl. Theodore McCarrick in 2005 and 2007 (Newark was named in both lawsuits) based on claims that McCarrick had sexually assaulted seminarians while bishop in New Jersey. The settlements were kept from the public, McCarrick's rise to power left to continue unhindered in Washington, D.C.
Following these and other reports that McCarrick was a serial sex abuser, and amid growing calls for the Vatican to act, Rome announced Saturday he had resigned from the College of Cardinals and the pope had imposed a life of prayer and penance until the canonical process was complete.
After Myers announced a $500,000 renovation in 2013, two years before his retirement — adding a 3,000-square-foot, three-story building to the existing mansion — Catholics were so outraged they led a boycott of the bishop's annual fundraising appeal.
"I'm disgusted," said Newark Catholic Joe Ferri at the time. "The archdiocese is not going to get another penny out of me."
"This is extreme," said Charles Zech, "way beyond what you'd expect to happen. I can't believe the parishioners of Newark are going to allow this to happen."
"To ask people to make sacrifices and then to live in a sumptuous residence, it makes me very annoyed," said Joan Rubino. "In plain English, I feel like people are getting screwed."
But a tone-deaf archdiocese justified the expense. Spokesman Jim Goodness claimed the expansion was necessary because Myers would continue to work in retirement and needed more "office space" — office space that would include an indoor pool, three fireplaces, a hot tub, elevator and a library, among others.
In a piece titled "A Church So Poor It Has to Close Schools, Yet So Rich It Can Build a Palace," The New York Times called out the archdiocese for shuttering Mater Dei Academy in Kearny while spending half a million dollars for the bishop's renovations. The archdiocese at the time cited declining enrollment and "unstable finances" for its reasons to close the school.
The faithful delivered a petition with 17,000 signatures in April 2014 to the bishop demanding that he stop using Church funds to build out his mansion and set an example by choosing more modest retirement quarters. Myers ignored their pleas.
His comfortable retirement followed tenures in New Jersey and Illinois, where he left a troubling track record of reinstating and even advancing credibly accused priests.
In 2013, laity demanded that the Church launch an investigation into Myers for allowing a convicted sex abuser access to children, in violation of an agreement with the prosecutor's office as well as the U.S. Bishops' Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
Father Michael Fugee, a self-admitted homosexual, was convicted in 2003 of criminal sexual contact, admitting to police he had fondled a 14-year-old boy's genitals twice, and that the contact had sexually excited him. He was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to five years probation.
An appeals court overturned the verdict in 2006 over concerns that admitting evidence of Fugee's homosexuality might have drawn "an unfounded association between homosexuality and pedophilia." The rest of the evidence, including Fugee's confession, was not contested.
Instead of retrying him, the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office in 2007 entered into an agreement with the archdiocese, which allowed Fugee to attend a rehabilitation program under the strict condiction that he would never be permitted to work "in any position involving children."
But in 2013, it was discovered Fugee had had frequent access to children for years through an informal association with St. Mary's Parish in Colts Neck, where he attended youth retreats on Lake Hopatcong in Mount Arlington, joined adolescents and teens in their annual pilgrimage to Canada, and heard minor's confessions in private — all with the knowledge and approval of Abp. Myers.
After public outcry, the archdiocese rejected any wrongdoing, the diocesan spokesman saying that Fugee had been under supervision throughout his time spent with minors.
"We believe that the archdiocese and Father Fugee have adhered to the stipulations in all of his activities, and will continue to do so," said Jim Goodness. "The fact is, he has done nothing wrong."
Worse, it came to light that Myers had appointed Fugee in 2009 to be chaplain at St. Michael's Medical Center in Newark without telling hospital officials about his criminal past. As soon as the hospital learned, he was removed as chaplain.
And in 2012, Myers drew heat for making Fugee co-director of the Office of Continuing Education and Ongoing Formation of Priests.
Parishioners at St. Mary's in Colts Neck were furious when they discovered the news of Fugee's criminal record.
"Finding this out later has left me completely flabbergasted," said Deacon Paul Franklin at the time, whose children were part of the youth group attended by Fugee. "If I had known, I would have objected immediately."
"It's complete craziness that the church can let this happen," said John Santulli, who went to St. Mary's with his children. "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."
Both the dioceses of Trenton and Paterson, where the retreats and parish activity took place, insisted Fugee participated without their knowledge or permission, the bishop of Trenton barring the priest from further activities at St. Mary's.
The pastor of St. Mary's along with two youth ministers — close friends with Fugee, who knew about his past and never informed parishioners — were removed from the parish.
The Newark archdiocese, however, remained unapologetic.
"Father Fugee remains a priest who is allowed to be in ministry," said spokesman Jim Goodness. "There is no change in his status at this point."
Father John Bambrick, a priest in the Trenton diocese and himself a survivor of clerical sex abuse, had sharp words for Myers.
"Essentially, Abp. Myers has erased 10 years of hard work by the church in the United States to ensure people are safe," he said. "He has called into question the integrity of all of us who work so hard to ensure the safety of children, and it's really disheartening."
Noting the "body count" of those forced to step away from public ministry, Bambrick asked why Myers was not being held accountable.
"The person who caused all this upset is Abp. Myers, and he's still in office," said Bambrick. "It seems like the archbishop needs to take responsibility for his own actions, as everyone else has in this crisis."
After a victims' advocacy group petitioned the Vatican to force Myers to resign, Pope Francis appointed Co-Adjutor Bp. Bernard Hebda to the archdiocese, but allowed Myers to serve out his remaining tenure until the mandatory retirement age of 75. Instead, Msgr. John Doran, Myers' second-in-command, and the one who had signed the 2007 agreement with Bergen County, took the fall, forced to resign.
Fugee was eventually laicized in 2014, but only after Bergen County decided to drop criminal charges in exchange for his laicization and on agreement that the County — not the diocese — would supervise Fugee's whereabouts, as it no longer trusted Myers to be vigilant over the priest's movements. The Vatican acted with uncustomary speed — four months — in completing the process.
Before Newark, Myers was head of the diocese of Peoria, Illinois from 1990–2001, where he placed at least one priest accused of sex abuse in a position of power.
Father John Anderson was removed from ministry in 1993 after an accusation of abuse. Not only did Myers reinstate him years later, he made him director of the diocese's Office for the Propagation of the Faith.
When his successor, Bp. Daniel Jenky, was installed in 2002, among his first actions was removing Anderson from ministry, along with six other credibly accused priests.
Myers was soon afterwards dumped from the U.S. Bishops' Committee on the Protection of Minors, having only served five months. His spokesman claimed at the time it was because his work on the committee was complete, but critics claim it was because of the mess he'd left in Peoria.
Among the priests removed by Jenky was Fr. Francis Engels, who had resigned in 1993 after several allegations of sex abuse. As bishop, Myers later tried to reinstate him, but reversed course after victims threatened to go to the media.
"I didn't realize they would be so upset," the archbishop said.
In 2013, the diocese settled a $1.35 million lawsuit brought by Andrew Ward, who claimed that a priest friend of Myers, Fr. Thomas Maloney, had abused him when he was in second grade, when Myers was bishop of Peoria. In a 2010 deposition, Myers was shown evidence that his diocese had received complaints of Maloney's sex abuse from at least five others. Myers — who had received multiple gifts of cash, coins and other items from Maloney, with whom he had attended seminary — denied knowledge throughout.
Revelations that men in power in the Church have abused their authority and experience virtually no accountability, while the laity are left to foot the bill, have spurred a growing movement to boycott the bishops' fundraising appeals and demand their resignations. Much like the 2014 boycott of Myers' fundraising campaign in light of his extravagant spending and checkered clerical career, Catholics are hoping the boycott goes national, and that bishops — funded and supported by a laity they have too often failed — are finally called to account.