Statement: Diocese of Metuchen addresses indictment, alleged crimes predating accused’s tenure as priest
Diocese of Metuchen
November 22, 2019
The former pastor of Our Lady of Mount Virgin Parish in Middlesex, Fr. Patrick J. Kuffner, identified on the list of names of clergy currently under investigation by civil authorities as released by the Diocese of Metuchen in Feb. of this year, was arrested Nov. 20 by the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department on three counts of sexual assault of a minor that date back more than three decades to when he was a layperson and while in Massachusetts.
“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, Esq., spokesperson and chancellor of the Diocese of Metuchen. “While the alleged crimes date back to the early 1980’s, more than 35 years ago, and involve an incident from before Fr. Kuffner was a priest or even a seminarian, the charges are nevertheless shocking and are being taken seriously by the Diocese of Metuchen,” he said.
“Once we learned of the allegations, we immediately reported them to the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, which then conducted an initial investigation and subsequently referred the matter to the Hampden County Prosecutor’s Office in MA,” said Kearns. “The diocese, as a matter of a strictly adhered to policy, reports every accusation to the appropriate county prosecutor’s office, regardless of when or how long ago the abuse is alleged to have occurred and whether or not the accused is living or deceased,” Kearns further stated.
“As in all circumstances involving the protection of young people, the Diocese of Metuchen has been fully cooperating with law enforcement and, in particular, the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office, which has jurisdiction over this matter,” said Kearns.
In 2002, the Diocese of Metuchen examined all clergy files to review any reasonably available and relevant information pertaining to allegations of sexual abuse, in an audit conducted by an outside law firm and the diocesan chancellor.
As a result of that audit, the diocese turned over to law enforcement every alleged case of sexual abuse or misconduct, including cases that pre-dated the founding of the diocese, many of which were reported to have 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.
An additional review of diocesan archives, done by an independent, outside law firm, was completed to prepare the list of credibly accused clergy released in Feb. No new cases were found.
“Upon further review of the diocese’s records, there was nothing in Fr. Kuffner’s background check – a screening that is required of all seminarians and priests – or in Fr. Kuffner’s behavior to suggest he could be capable of the alleged acts,” said Kearns. “There have been no known allegations against Fr. Kuffner, regarding any type of abuse, since he became a priest,” he said.
“Fr. Kuffner is on a leave of absence and cannot function as a priest,” said Kearns. “No cleric in the Diocese of Metuchen who has had a credible accusation of child sexual abuse is in active ministry,” he said.
In addition to the many measures already in place to create safe environments in its parishes and schools, the Diocese of Metuchen also relies on a Review Board, which 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 board reviews every accusation as soon as it is received, unless there is an active criminal investigation. Upon the completion of every criminal investigation, should the civil authorities deem the matter not to be criminal or barred by the statute of limitations, the board conducts its own investigation and analysis to determine the credibility of the allegations. The board then makes its findings and recommendations known to the diocese and the bishop then takes all necessary and appropriate action.
In addition, to facilitate healing and transparency, the Diocese of Metuchen published a list of all diocesan priests with credible accusations on its website. Combined, these actions seem to be achieving the desired results, as it has been decades since the diocese has had a minor abused in one of its parishes or schools, according to Kearns.
The Diocese of Metuchen is among the five Catholic dioceses in N.J. that established an Independent Victim Compensation Program to compensate those who, as children or young adults, were sexually abused by a priest or deacon of the diocese. The statewide program is being independently administered by two noted victims’ compensation experts and aims to support abuse survivors by providing them with an efficient alternative to litigation that is both speedy and transparent, to resolve their claims with a significantly lower level of proof and corroboration than required in a court of law. Since its founding thirty-eight years ago in 1981, the Diocese of Metuchen has paid approximately $1.5 million dollars in settlements to 21 survivors.
“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,” said Kearns. “The terrible acts perpetrated in the history of our Church, will not be tolerated in our Church today or in the future.”
Anyone who has been harmed in any way, by any clergy in the Church, is encouraged to reach out to local law enforcement and the Diocesan Response Officer at (908) 930-4558 to report an offense or arrange for counseling assistance.