Bishop's Letter to Parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Virgin

The following is a letter from Bishop Checchio to parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Virgin regarding the leave of absence of their pastor, Fr. Patrick J. Kuffner, also available as a PDF:

February 25, 2018

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

It is with great sadness that I must inform you that your pastor, Fr. Patrick J. Kuffner, has been accused by three individuals of sexual abuse while they were minors.  These charges date back more than three decades, to when he was a layman and teaching on Staten Island.

Three law enforcement agencies were initially involved in investigating these claims; two have determined that the statute of limitation has lapsed, the investigation by one agency is ongoing.  Since it would not be right or possible for Fr. Kuffner to exercise his pastoral responsibilities toward you with these charges pending, he will be on a leave of absence and cannot function as a priest. I have appointed Fr. David Skoblow to serve as temporary administrator of the parish.

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. With that said, I have rechecked our records and there was nothing whatsoever in the background checks required of all seminarians and priests, or in Fr. Kuffner’s behavior in his two priestly assignments, to suggest 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. I, of course, take these charges extremely seriously.

As in all circumstances involving the protection of young people, the Diocese has been cooperating fully 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.  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. I also recognize the fundamental right in both civil and canon law that one who is accused of a crime is considered innocent until proven guilty and, even as my heart goes out to the individuals who reported the crimes, I am also praying for Father.

I want to assure you that in this matter, as in all circumstances involving the protection of young people, the Diocese cooperated fully with law enforcement agencies. We are also committed to continuing to provide pastoral care and counseling assistance to abuse victims and survivors.  I ask anyone with information about this matter or other situations of misconduct or abuse involving clergy or church personnel to contact local law enforcement or Lawrence Nagle, Director of the diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection at (732) 562-2413 or youth.protection@diometuchen.org.

I have confidence in the pastoral sensitivity of Fr. Skoblow and Fr. McGrath as they accompany you in processing all that has happened.  I also know that our merciful Lord will not fail to guide you to a place of understanding and healing. In his message for this Lenten season, Pope Francis writes, “If, at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God!”  We turn anew to the Lord for His consolation at this time.

Finally, I ask you to join me in these Lenten days of repentance and renewal in praying for Fr. Kuffner and for all who suffer from the terrible scourge of sexual abuse, especially anyone who has been abused.  Know of my love and prayers for you even while I ask for your prayers for me and the priests of our diocese; and know I am with you throughout this most unsettling time.  Please be assured of my prayers for you and your parish, and I remain

Yours in Christ,

Most Reverend James F. Checchio, JCD, MBA
Bishop of Metuchen