By Emily Drooby and Paula Katinas
As a Queens church grappled with the news of the arrest of its pastor on charges of sharing sexually explicit photos and texts with a minor, the FBI continued its investigation into whether there could more than one victim.
Father Francis Hughes, 65, now the former pastor of St. Pancras Church in Glendale, was arrested by the FBI on July 29. He is believed to have shared both pictures and texts with a teen after meeting him on a dating app.
FBI officials said there may be additional victims and asked anyone with information to call the agency at 1-800-CALL-FBI.
“If you or anyone you know may have been a victim of Rev. Hughes, we are asking you to contact us at 1-800-CALL-FBI. If you are a parent or guardian, please take a moment to have a discussion with your children about protecting themselves and about how they can report the type of predatory behavior that is alleged here today,” FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said in a statement on July 29.
The Diocese of Brooklyn moved swiftly to remove Father Hughes from the parish and appoint a temporary administrator, Father Rev. Wladyslaw Kubrak, who is currently the parochial vicar for St. Pancras. This assignment became effective on July 29 and will remain until a further determination can be made in regard to naming a new pastor, officials said.
The diocese plans to reach out to parishioners of St. Pancras to provide pastoral care in the wake of the shattering news about their former pastor.
“Our first responsibility is to our people. Outreach will be provided to the parishioners with the hope of providing them with pastoral care, which is what we do. We will take into account the necessary safety precautions during this pandemic,” the diocese said in a statement.
As the news was sinking in at St. Pancras the day after Father Hughes’ arrest, Father Kubrak sought to calm parishioners.
“I encourage my brothers and sisters, in other words, our parishioners, to pray and to trust in God. That is exactly what it is about,” he told Currents News.
Father Kubrak explained that in the hardest times, the faithful should turn to Jesus Christ for guidance and face these difficulties head-on. He added that parishioners must “pick up their own cross and face everything that is going on.”
He also said that while he understands this situation could lead people to want to move away from the church, he hopes parishioners continue to come to St. Pancras and that his door is always open to anyone who wants to talk to him.
Father Hughes is charged with one count of receipt and distribution of child pornography, which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison and a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
His arrest was announced by Audrey Strauss, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Sweeney.
“The allegations against Francis Hughes are chilling and frightening to any parent. A person who, by the nature of his profession, is presumed to be trustworthy, allegedly victimized a child. Thanks to the FBI, Hughes now faces a serious federal charge,” Strauss said in a statement.
Hughes was scheduled to appear in federal court in White Plains.
The Diocese of Brooklyn released a brief statement immediately following the news of the arrest: “The pastor has been removed from his post.”
The Diocese of Brooklyn has several protocols and systems in place to combat sexual abuse within the church and to protect victims, including a no-tolerance policy.
The diocese’s confidential reporting line connects directly to law enforcement authorities. Victims are encouraged to report a crime no matter when the alleged abuse occurred. The number is 888-634-4499.
Father Hughes served as pastor of St. Pancras for five years. He was ordained a priest on May 17, 1980, and has served at several parishes, and one preparatory school, in the diocese.
His assignments are as follows:
St. Fidelis: 1980 to 1986
Church of St. Mary, Mother of Jesus: 1986 to 1989
Church of St. Bernard: 1989 to 1990
Cathedral Preparatory School and Seminary: 1990 to 1992
Church of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Brooklyn: 1992 to 1994
Church of St. Helen, Howard Beach: 1994 to 2001
Church of Our Lady of Miracles, Brooklyn: 2001 to 2009
Church of St. Columba: 2009 to 2015
Church of St. Pancras: 2015 to 2020