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Trenton, NJ - Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M., has accepted the resignation of Father Thomas J. Triggs as pastor of St. Mary Parish, Colts Neck, effective immediately. The May 4 resignation follows recent reports that Father Michael Fugee, a priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, had assisted in several activities of the parish's youth group despite having been restricted from such ministry in an agreement with law enforcement authorities in Bergen County.
Bishop O'Connell has granted Father Triggs a period of sabbatical before he will be given a new assignment. A parish administrator will be appointed for St. Mary Parish.
In one of his last official acts as pastor, Father Triggs accepted the resignations of Michael and Amy Lenehan, parish youth group ministers, effective immediately. The Lenehans had invited Father Fugee to take part in youth ministry events without ensuring that he would have been cleared for such ministry in compliance with the Diocese of Trenton's policies.
The Diocese of Trenton released a statement April 29 reporting that it was first made aware of the presence of Father Michael Fugee at a youth retreat held in St. Mary Parish through an inquiry from the media on April 23, 2013. The statement stipulated that Father Fugee had been given no permission to exercise ministry there by the Diocese nor had he filed with the Chancery the "letter of suitability" required of all priests outside of the Diocese before they are to conduct ministry here.
According to that statement, upon learning of Father Fugee's activities, Bishop O’Connell immediately contacted Father Triggs and indicated that Father Fugee may not exercise ministry there, including any ministry involving youth. Bishop O’Connell then contacted officials in the Archdiocese of Newark to inform them of developments concerning Father Fugee.
In 2001, Father Fugee, while serving in Wycoff, was convicted of criminal sexual contact with a minor. That conviction was later overturned on appeal for procedural reasons. Rather than retry the case, authorities offered Father Fugee the opportunity to undergo counseling and rehabilitation and agree to limited ministry that would preclude access to children and youth. In compliance with those restrictions, the Archdiocese had given Father Fugee responsibilities in the Chancery in Newark.
On May 3, the Archdiocese of Newark issued a release reporting that Father Fugee had requested to be removed from active ministry as a priest, and had taken full responsibility for actions that went beyond his assigned ministry with the Archdiocese. Archbishop John J. Myers accepted the resignation, effective immediately.
Messages from Bishop O'Connell and Father Triggs announcing the pastor's and youth ministers' resignations were read aloud to St. Mary parishioners at Masses the weekend of May 4 and 5. In his message, Bishop O'Connell said that recent "troubling events" and the "intense scrutiny" that have surrounded them have made it clear "that a change in parish leadership is in the best interest of all concerned."
The Bishop stated, "There are few things in life as important as protecting our children and young people. We all must recommit ourselves to that goal by supporting the policies of the Diocese of Trenton designed to do precisely that."
Bishop O'Connell conveyed his gratitude to Father Triggs for his "service to God's people in Colts Neck for the past six years." The Bishop also expressed his "hope and prayer that this community of faith will move forward together, that any anger or hurt will subside and that the Lord will bless our efforts to serve one another in his name."