STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — A New Jersey priest, who worked in Staten Island schools for more than 20 years as a layman, was put on a leave of absence Sunday after sexual abuse allegations connected to his time in the borough surfaced.
Rev. Patrick Kuffner “has been accused by three individuals of sexual abuse while they were minors,” according to a letter from Bishop James F. Checchio of the Diocese of Metuchen.
The allegations stem from Kuffner’s time as a layman and teacher on Staten Island more than 30 years ago, according to the letter.
“As I am sure you will be, I am deeply shocked and saddened at this development, and I have a heavy heart for the individuals who came forward after many years of having carried such a tremendous burden,” Checchio wrote in his letter.
Kuffner could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.
He is now 70, according to public records.
The letter doesn’t go into detail about the allegations against Kuffner, who served as pastor for Our Lady of Mount Virgin in Middlesex, N.J.
A priest at the New Jersey church said all he knew about the allegations was what was in Checchio’s letter.
However, the Advance learned at least some of the allegations stem from his time as a teacher and basketball coach at Sacred Heart in West Brighton in the early 1980s.
A Sacred Heart employee, who answered the phone Monday afternoon, declined comment on the allegations.
Kuffner was initially under investigation by three law enforcement agencies, but two determined the statute of limitations had lapsed, according to the letter.
“The investigation by one agency is ongoing,” the letter says.
An officer with the Middlesex Police Department said there was no investigation into Kuffner, and that no arrests had been made. He referred the Advance to Bishop Checchio’s letter.
The NYPD could not provide information on an investigation, but under New York law, sexual abuse victims must bring criminal or civil charges before they turn 23.
Activists and pols have long fought to change the law in New York, which is one of the most restrictive in the country.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2018 budget prioritizes the Child Victims Act, which would allow survivors to bring civil cases 50 years after the incident and would eliminate the statute of limitations for any felony sexually-related offense committed against a minor.
Before his time at Our Lady of Mount Virgin, Kuffner, who was ordained in 2002 at the age of 53, served as parochial vicar at St. Bartholomew Parish in East Brunswick until 2005, according to a report from MyCentralJersey.
Letter Regarding Middlesex Pastor’s Leave of Absence
Roman Catholic Diocese of Metuchen
February 25, 2018
The following is a letter from Bishop Checchio to parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Virgin regarding the leave of absence of their pastor, Fr. Patrick J. Kuffner, also available as a PDF:
February 25, 2018
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It is with great sadness that I must inform you that your pastor, Fr. Patrick J. Kuffner, has been accused by three individuals of sexual abuse while they were minors. These charges date back more than three decades, to when he was a layman and teaching on Staten Island.
Three law enforcement agencies were initially involved in investigating these claims; two have determined that the statute of limitation has lapsed, the investigation by one agency is ongoing. Since it would not be right or possible for Fr. Kuffner to exercise his pastoral responsibilities toward you with these charges pending, he will be on a leave of absence and cannot function as a priest. I have appointed Fr. David Skoblow to serve as temporary administrator of the parish.
As I am sure you will be, I am deeply shocked and saddened at this development, and I have a heavy heart for the individuals who came forward after many years of having carried such a tremendous burden. With that said, I have rechecked our records and there was nothing whatsoever in the background checks required of all seminarians and priests, or in Fr. Kuffner’s behavior in his two priestly assignments, to suggest he could be capable of such horrendous actions. There has never been any indication of these types of actions during his time as a priest either. I, of course, take these charges extremely seriously.
As in all circumstances involving the protection of young people, the Diocese has been cooperating fully with law enforcement. The sexual abuse of a minor is among the most terrible of crimes because it is committed against society’s most innocent and vulnerable and its effects can last a lifetime. Any such act is illegal, immoral and always wrong. I know this news creates great turmoil in your lives as well and it turns my stomach, too, to think that a priest would be accused of such actions. I also recognize the fundamental right in both civil and canon law that one who is accused of a crime is considered innocent until proven guilty and, even as my heart goes out to the individuals who reported the crimes, I am also praying for Father.
I want to assure you that in this matter, as in all circumstances involving the protection of young people, the Diocese cooperated fully with law enforcement agencies. We are also committed to continuing to provide pastoral care and counseling assistance to abuse victims and survivors. I ask anyone with information about this matter or other situations of misconduct or abuse involving clergy or church personnel to contact local law enforcement or Lawrence Nagle, Director of the diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection at (732) 562-2413 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I have confidence in the pastoral sensitivity of Fr. Skoblow and Fr. McGrath as they accompany you in processing all that has happened. I also know that our merciful Lord will not fail to guide you to a place of understanding and healing. In his message for this Lenten season, Pope Francis writes, “If, at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God!” We turn anew to the Lord for His consolation at this time.
Finally, I ask you to join me in these Lenten days of repentance and renewal in praying for Fr. Kuffner and for all who suffer from the terrible scourge of sexual abuse, especially anyone who has been abused. Know of my love and prayers for you even while I ask for your prayers for me and the priests of our diocese; and know I am with you throughout this most unsettling time. Please be assured of my prayers for you and your parish, and I remain
Yours in Christ,
Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen
Our Lady of Mount Virgin Church Bulletin
12 May 2013
“A Note From Father Pat”
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today we read about the martyrdom of the deacon, Stephen. With a powerful faith, he refused to be cowed by the surging mob, and went to his death proclaiming the Lord, Jesus and also forgiving those who were stoning him.
Today we as church seem to be in the grips of mob mentality, and sometimes feel that we are only moments away from modern day spiritual martyrdom. As we live out our faith in the modern world, it is easy at times to become discouraged, and unfortunately, sometimes even consider abandoning our Catholic faith.
Last weekend, here at OLMV seventy children, teenagers and adults came forward for the first time to receive Jesus in Holy Eucharist as we celebrated the Sacrament of First Holy Communion on Saturday and Sunday. Many of our parishioners joined in celebrating our Patroness, Blessed Virgin Mary, as we processed from the church to the grotto of Our Lady in the Meditation Garden; and as we honored her in song and prayer. It was a joy to see our Altar Rosarians support our “First Communion” children who served as an honor guard for Shannon Fitzgerald who crowned the statue of Mary. One of our “little ones” was baptized last Sunday as well. Many of our parishioners participated in our “Mother’s Day” plant sale and in the Knights of Columbus “Family Breakfast.” Later, in the evening, young persons in our Scouting and Youth Group programs met and enjoyed each other’s company.
So much goes on here at OLMV each week, and Jesus really is present among us. It is so unfortunate that even as we endeavor with such diligence to share powerfully in the presence of the risen Lord, our efforts are undermined by the egregious actions of a few. For almost a week now, the Star Ledger has run a “Front Page” story about a priest assigned to the Archdiocese of Newark who had been serving in “restricted” ministry. It was reported that he was not allowed to be involved in any way with young people, yet he participated in retreats and other activities at which young persons were present.
Yet again, our church is ‘front and center” in the news, in a negative light due to decisions and press statements that on face value, seem to defy credibility. I have not seen any legal or canonical documents concerning what has been reported in the press. It seems obvious; however, regardless of the “reporting slant” in the papers, that actions and statements by members of our church have been harmful to the Catholic Church here in New Jersey.
As one who has the privilege to serve as the leader of our faith community here at OLMV, I have to let you know how sorry I am that, yet again, we who are the Church feel shame and disappointment by the sins and mistakes of a few.
My prayer is that we continue, together, to be a powerful and faithful voice for Jesus Christ here at OLMV.