Abusive Priest, Diocese Hit With Lawsuit
SCRANTON — Seven years before he was caught having oral sex with a 15-year-old boy, former Diocese of Scranton priest William Jeffrey Paulish abused another altar boy at an Old Forge church, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The diocese’s handling of Paulish’s case is a “glaring example” of how it cared more about protecting priests and the church than it did children, the man’s attorney, Gerald J. Williams of Philadelphia, said at a press conference announcing the filing of the suit.
Paulish, 61, was transferred from one unsuspecting parish to another 11 times and granted two leaves of absences before he landed at St. Mary’s Church, now known as the Prince of Peace Parish,in Old Forge in October 2006, Williams said. He immediately began abusing Williams’ client.
“While Paulish, we have alleged, is the direct abuser of our client ... the diocese was responsible for having Paulish where he was in direct proximity to children,” Williams said. “It was clearly known by the diocese he was an abuser.”
The lawsuit, filed in Lackawanna County Court, names as defendants the diocese, Paulish, current bishop the Most. Rev. Joseph C. Bambera and retired bishops James C. Timlin and Joseph F. Martino.
The suit says Paulish, of Olyphant, abused the now 29-year-old Lackawanna County man, who is identified under the pseudonym “Richard Roe,” from October 2006 to May 2007. Paulish could not be reached for comment.
According to the suit, Paulish once pressed his erect genitals against the boy as they walked in a procession into Mass. He also grabbed the victim’s genitals over his clothing at least three times and regularly stared at the victim and other boys as they changed into robes.
Paulish remained at St. Mary’s until July 2008. He was granted two more leaves of absence and served at three more churches until September 2013, when he was arrested after he was found performing a sex act with a boy in a parked car at the Penn State Worthington Scranton campus in Dunmore.
He pleaded guilty in February 2014 to corruption of a minor and was sentenced in June 2014 to eight to 23 months in prison.
Williams said his client never reported the incidents to church officials or police. He decided to come forward after learning Paulish was among 301 priests, including 59 from the Scranton diocese, who were identified as perpetrators of abuse in a statewide grand jury report released in August.
“The attorney general’s report makes it pretty clear all the dioceses engaged in a pattern of cover up,” Williams said. “Unfortunately the diocese of Scranton ... was among the worst in persisting in this pattern.”
The abuse occurred while Martino was bishop. Williams said he named Timlin and Bambera as defendants because they helped perpetuate the climate of concealing abuse cases.
The lawsuit notes Bambera became bishop in 2010,but he previously served as vicar of priests from 1995 to 1998 and was involved in investigating allegations of abuse. Bambera approved leaves of absence for Paulish in 2012 and 2013, the last of which occurred two months before his arrest.
In a statement, William Genello, spokesman for the diocese, said church officials have significantly improved their handling of abuse allegations in the past decade. The diocese has a strict zero tolerance policy, immediately removes any accused priest and notifies law enforcement and the public.
“Bishop Bambera will continue to do all that he can to ensure our children are safe from abuse moving forward, and will address allegations swiftly and transparently, as he has always done,” Genello said.
The lawsuit is the second Williams and his co-counsel, Michelle Simpson Tuegel of Dallas, Texas and Muhammad S. Aziz of Houston, Texas, filed in the wake of the grand jury report. They filed the other lawsuit in Lehigh County Court against the Diocese of Alllentown.
The lawsuits come several weeks after the Diocese of Scranton and other dioceses announced they are creating special funds to compensate victims of clergy abuse, including those whose cases fall outside the statute of limitations to file a lawsuit.
Williams said his client’s case falls within the statute of limitations because it was altered in 2002 to give sexual assault victims the right to sue up until they turn age 30.
While the fund will benefit people who have no other recourse to seek damages, Williams said he remains skeptical of the church’s motives.
“If there were ever an institution in the history of the world that could not be trusted to judge itself or evaluate its liability... it’s the Catholic church,” he said.
Tuegel said their client also hopes his lawsuit will shed more light on the scandal by forcing the church to turn over documents.
“Victims have the right to know why this happened so long, who was covering it up and why didn’t they protect me,” Tuegel said. “Victim compensation funds may give some money, but they will not give them those answers.”
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Ordained as a priest in 1988, William Jeffrey Paulish served as a priest at Our Lady of Snows Church, Newton Twp.; Annunciation Church, Williamsport; St. Cecelia’s Church, Exeter; Most Precious Blood Church, Hazleton; Sacred Heart, Blakely; St. Joseph’s Church, Scranton; Immaculate Conception Church and St. John the Baptist Church, Taylor; St. Patrick’s Church, Scranton; St. Mary’s Church, Old Forge; Holy Cross Church, Olyphant; Prince of Peace Church, Old Forge; pastor at St. Francis Xavier, Friendsville; St. Patrick’s Church, Middletown; St. Thomas the Apostle, Little Meadows; and St. Elizabeth Church, Bear Creek Twp.; and chaplain, Little Flower Manor, Wilkes-Barre; and St. Mary’s Villa, Elmhurst Twp., according to the grand jury report.