Clergy sex abuse: NJ priest charged with sexual assault of teen in 1980s
By Joshua Chung
Asbury Park Press
November 22, 2019
|Robert M. Hoatson goes public with sexual abuse he endured, starting at the age of 11 or 12. Hoatson said he has not had a day of peace since then. By his side is Attorney, Mitchell Garabedian. Wednesday, August , 2019|
The sexual assault charges against a New Jersey priest arrested Wednesday in Ocean County involve incidents that happened more than 35 years ago before the man was a priest, according to the Diocese of Metuchen.
Patrick J. Kuffner, 72, is facing three counts of sexual assault of a minor between the ages of 13 and 16, according to court records. But in a statement, the Diocese of Metuchen said that Kuffner — the former pastor of Our Lady of Mount Virgin Parish in Middlesex — said the incidents took place in Massachusetts more than 35 years ago, and before Kuffner was a seminarian or ordained as a priest.
“First and foremost, our prayers are with the person who came forward last year with these allegations, after many years of carrying this burden, and all those who are survivors of sexual abuse,” said Anthony P. Kearns III, spokesperson and chancellor of the Diocese of Metuchen, noting that the incident took place in the 1980s.
“The charges are nevertheless shocking and are being taken seriously by the Diocese of Metuchen,” Kearns said.
Kuffner has been on a leave of absence since the allegations were made and cannot function as a priest, Kearns said.
"No cleric in the Diocese of Meteuchen who has had a credible accusation of child sexual abuse is in active ministry," Kearns said.
Kuffner was assigned to Queenship of Mary in Plainsboro, St. Bartholomew in East Brunswick and Our Lady of Mount Virgin in Middlesex.
During a background check for Kuffner, the diocese found nothing or in his behavior to suggest he could be capable of the alleged acts, according to Kearns.
Once the diocese learned of the allegations, the incident was immediately reported to the Middlesex County Prosecutor's Office and then later referred to the Hampden County Prosecutor's Office in Massachusetts, according to the statement.
“The diocese is committed to helping abuse victims and survivors in their healing process and stands ready to provide pastoral care, counseling assistance and support,” Kearns said. “The terrible acts perpetrated in the history of our church, will not be tolerated in our church today or in the future.”
In 2002, the Diocese of Metuchen examined all clergy files to review any reasonably available and relevant information pertaining to allegations of sexual abuse. Upon their findings, the diocese turned over every alleged case of sexual abuse or misconduct, the diocese said.
This included cases that happened even before the diocese was founded in 1981. Most of the reported cases happened between the 1960s and 1980s.
"Since the initial audit, the diocese has required background checks, child protection training for all who work or volunteer with children and has implemented zero-tolerance policies," the statement said.
In February, an additional review of diocesan archives conducted by an outside law firm was completed to prepare the list of "credibly accused." There were no new cases found.
The Diocese of Metuchen created a review board, which examines every accusation as soon as it is filed, unless there is an active criminal investigation. The board consists of nine members: three medical professionals, two members of the clergy, one former prosecutor, two former judges and one survivor of clerical sexual abuse.
"The Diocese of Metuchen published a list of all diocesan priests with credible accusations on its website," Kearns said. "As a result, it has been decades since the diocese has had a minor abused in one of its parishes or schools."
The diocese asks anyone who was "harmed in any way, by any clergy in the church" is encouraged to reach out to law enforcement and the Diocesan Response Officer at 908-930-4558 to report an offense or arrange for counseling assistance.