Upper West Side priest accused of sexually abusing five children
By Kerry Burke, Molly Crane-Newman And Michael Gartland
March 18, 2019
|Rafael Mendoza, 37, outside St. Patrick's Cathedral Friday, March 8, 2019, in Manhattan.|
Photo by Barry Williams
|Msgr. John Paddack, pictured here in an undated photo, is being accused of sexually abusing five former Catholic school students.|
|The Church of Incarnation, in Upper Manhattan, is pictured Saturday afternoon. It's one of the places the abuse allegedly happened.|
Five former Catholic school students are accusing a priest of sexually abusing them when they were boys attending schools and churches in the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island.
The men, four of whom wished to remain anonymous and spoke through a lawyer, claim that Monsignor John Paddack isolated them from other students, sought to offer them advice in private and then groped them.
Paddack denies the allegations.
Collectively, the accusers and their lawyers claim the abuse took place from 1988 to 2002 at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, St. Joseph by the Sea High School on Staten Island and the Church of the Incarnation in Upper Manhattan.
“He’d unbuckle my pants and grab my genitals,” said Rafael Mendoza, who was a freshman at Cardinal Hayes in 1996. “His face would get bloodshot red.”
Of the five accusers, Mendoza is the only one who’s made his name public. All five intend to file lawsuits against Paddack and the New York Archdiocese under the Child’s Victims Act, which Gov. Cuomo signed into law last month.
Complainants are permitted to file lawsuits under the law six months after it went into effect.
Another one of the five accusers leveled allegations against Paddack in 2012, according to his attorney, Michael Reck. The New York Archdiocese’s Lay Review Board deemed those claims “not substantiated,” a church spokesman said.
Paddack currently works as the administrator of the Church of Notre Dame on the Upper West Side, a position to which he was appointed in 2011 by Cardinal Timothy Dolan. During his days at Cardinal Hayes, from 1991 to 1998, he served as a teacher and guidance counselor.
Paddack denied abusing the boys and said he didn’t recognize Mendoza from a photo.
“Nothing happened, believe me. I have a 50-year record of teaching. And it’s a good record, believe me,” said Paddack. “I think they’ve been seeing the advertisements on television and in the paper and a chance to make money. Very sad, and it could ruin a reputation, which is awful.”
Paddack said he was notified by the archdiocese about the accusations after the Daily News started making inquiries. As of now, he said he believes he still has the support of the archdiocese.
“Right now, I know I do,” he said. “I even spoke to the cardinal.”
Paddack declined to elaborate on that conversation.
“I’m a good teacher and I’m a good priest,” he said.
Mendoza, of Washington Heights, remembers Paddack as his guidance counselor at Cardinal Hayes.
He had just started going there in 1996 after attending PS/IS 187 in Washington Heights. Though only three-and-a-half miles from his home, Cardinal Hayes, which is several blocks from Yankee Stadium, seemed to him a world away.
“I was kind of suicidal at the time. I was taking a lot of medication,” Mendoza said. “I finally reached out to the guidance counselor, who was him.”
Mendoza claimed that over a period of about one year, he would see Paddack once every other week.
“I remember him pulling me close. He put his knee in my crotch,” he recalled. “He’s touching my face and saying what’s wrong.”
According to Mendoza, Paddack would then ask him to remove his clothes and examine him with a stethoscope.
“I remember the coldness when he was checking my heartbeat.” he said.
Another accuser, who attended Cardinal Hayes until 1995 and also served as an alter boy at Incarnation in Washington Heights, described similar encounters with Paddack.
“He would basically pull the chair and his knees would be touching my knees,” he recalled. “He would do the whole back massage thing. It was really creepy. More than that, he’d have his hand on my crotch.”
Asked about Paddack’s response to the claims against him, the accuser said: “It’s got nothing to do with money.”
“He’s around other kids,” he continued. “They shouldn’t have to experience that. They should be able to just be kids.”
Mendoza’s lawyer Michelle Tuegel said she does not intend to contact the archdiocese about the allegations because doing so is a “dead end.”
"We have reported John Paddack to the New York State Attorney General,” she said. “Dolan must remove Paddack immediately.”
A spokeswoman for the attorney general declined to comment.
Reck said he has reached out to the archdiocese, as well as the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island DAs. The Bronx DA’s office confirmed that it was notified of the accusations. Spokespersons for the Manhattan and Staten Island DA’s office declined to comment.
“Our general counsel has asked for the opportunity for our people to meet with and hear the stories of these individuals,” said archdiocese spokesman Joseph Zwilling. “Understandably, that has not yet happened, but we hope it will very soon. ”