N.J. Priest on Leave after Sex Abuse Allegations Surface from Time As Staten Island Teacher in 1980s
By Paul Liotta
Staten Island Advance
February 27, 2018
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.
After his time as a teacher at Sacred Heart, the Silver Lake native became an assistant principal at Moore Catholic High School, and went on to serve as principal for St. Peter's Elementary School in New Brighton from 1993 to 1998, according to Advance records.
Kuffner was honored at the 2010 St. Peter's Elementary School brunch with the School Service Award.
In addition to his role at St. Peter's Elementary School, Kuffner served as the interim principal for St. Peter's Girl's High School in the 1997-98 school year before deciding to join the priesthood, according to Advance records.
Moore Catholic Principal Gina DeSantis declined to comment on the allegations. She said she did not work with Kuffner. The phone at St. Peter-St. Paul Elementary school was not answered Monday afternoon.
Kuffner attended St. Joseph's Seminary in Dunwoodie, N.Y., but left to pursue his teaching career. At the age of 50, he began exploring going back to the cloth, the Advance reported in 2002.
He enrolled in the Blessed John XXIII Seminary in Weston, Mass., which specializes in "second-career" ministry.
His decision to follow his call was bolstered after a trip to Cambodia with Catholic Relief Services.
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York said they had just learned about the allegations, and would be cooperating with law enforcement.
Most recently, Kuffner guided current Holy Rosary Principal Ann Major to seek employment in Staten Island, after they worked together in New Jersey.
Major declined comment on the accusations against Kuffner.
Bishop Checchio's letter said the Diocese of Metuchen is cooperating fully with law enforcement, and that the charges are being taken seriously.
He added that there was no indication Kuffner was capable of the acts he is accused of either in his time as a priest, or in background checks required of all seminarians and priests.
"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," Checchio wrote.