“The pastor of Our Lady of Mount Virgin Parish has been accused of sexual abuse by three people when they were minors more than 30 years ago, Diocese of Metuchen Bishop James F. Checchio said in a letter to parishioners Sunday.
Checchio said the Rev. Patrick J. Kuffner is on a leave of absence and the Rev. David Skoblow will serve as temporary administrator of the parish.
The accusations relate to when Kuffner was a layman and teaching in Staten Island, New York, according to Checchio’s letter.
“Three law enforcement agencies were initially involved in investigating these claims; two have determined that the statute of limitations has lapsed, the investigation by one agency is ongoing. Since it would not be right or possible for Father Kuffner to exercise his pastoral responsibilities toward you with these charges pending, he will be on leave of absence and cannot function as a priest,” the letter states.
Checchio said he was “shocked and saddened” by the development while also expressing a “heavy heart” for the people who came forward after many years of carrying a tremendous burden.
“With that said, I have rechecked our records and there was nothing whatsoever in the background checks requires of all seminarians and priests or in Father Kuffner’s behavior in his two priestly assignments to suggests 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,” the bishop said, adding he takes the charges extremely seriously.
Kuffner, who was ordained in May 2002, served as parochial vicar at St. Bartholomew Parish in East Brunswick until 2005. He became administrator and then pastor of Our Lady of Mount Virgin Parish in Middlesex. Before becoming ordained, Kuffner served as a transitional deacon at Queenship of Mary Parish in Plainsboro.
He previously taught for 30 years in the Staten Island Catholic school system and had held the position of principal at St. Peter’s Elementary School. Kuffner was a teacher at Sacred Heart School on Staten Island around 1983 when the alleged incidents took place.
Checchio said the diocese has been cooperating 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,” Checchio’s letter states.
Checchio said it “turns my stomach” to think a priest would be accused of such actions, but he also recognizes that in civil and canon law a person who is accused of a crime is considered innocent until proven guilty. He said his heart goes out to the individuals who reported the crimes, and he’s also praying for Kuffner.
Other priests in the Diocese of Metuchen, which includes Hunterdon, Middlesex, Somerset and Warren counties, have faced sexual abuse accusations.
The Rev. Michael Santillo, former pastor of St. Mary’s Church in Perth Amboy, pleaded guilty in 1999 to molesting four boys in 1987 and 1988. Santillo died of cancer in 2000 while serving a 10-year sentence at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in the Avenel section of Woodbridge. The Rev. John Banko, who worked as a priest in Milford, Hunterdon County, died in Feb. 2016 at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center while serving a 33-year sentence for sexually assaulting an altar boy.
In 2002, the Rev. John Butler, an associate pastor of St. John Vianney RC Church in the Colonia section of Woodbridge, was accused of misconduct with a minor 40 years earlier on Long Island. That same year Monsignor Michael Cashman of St. James Church in Woodbridge was accused of molesting a mother and her two children and later found guilty of sexually abusing a child between 1980 and 1983, when he was an associate pastor of Our Lady of God Counsel parish in West Trenton and then an associate pastor of Immaculate Conception R.C. Church in Spotswood.
The Rev. John Giordano at St. Luke’s RC Church in North Plainfield retired in 2007 amid sexual misconduct allegations involving a child 30 years earlier. He was replaced by the Rev. Gregory Uhrig who was removed in 2010 following allegations he sexually abused a child in Pennsylvania 30 years earlier, according to an NJ.com report.
In 2015 Monsignor Raymond Cole, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Millstone Borough, was found not guilty by a church tribunal of sexually abusing a child in South Amboy in the late 1970s.
Checchio said the diocese is committed to providing pastoral care and counseling assistance to abuse victims and survivors. Anyone with information about the matter, or other situations of misconduct or abuse involving clergy or church personnel are asked to contact local law enforcement or Lawrence Nagle, director of the diocesan Office for Child of Youth Protection at 732-562-2413 firstname.lastname@example.org.
A diocesan spokesperson said that the letter would serve as its comment on the matter.”