SCRANTON — A priest who has served at more than a dozen Northeastern Pennsylvania parishes — including several in Luzerne County — has been suspended from his post in Old Forge after he allegedly was caught in a car on a college campus having sex with a boy.
Security officers at Penn State Worthington Scranton say they discovered the Rev. William Jeffery Paulish, 56, parked in a red Toyota Thursday night with a 15-year-old boy who wasn’t wearing any pants, according to an affidavit.
The priest told investigators he arraigned the liaison via postings on the website Craigslist, Lackawanna County Deputy District Attorney Jennifer McCambridge said Friday night.
Paulish initially told police he was walking around campus working on his homily, according to the affidavit. He said he encountered the boy by chance, learned that the teen was in emotional distress and was counseling the youth, police said.
Under questioning at the Dunmore police station, Paulish allegedly admitted having placed an ad in the “casual encounters” section of Craigslist in search of companionship. He said he received an email from an unknown male and agreed to meet at the college, according to police.
“Paulish stated he asked the male approximately three times if he was 18 years old,” police wrote. The affidavit does not indicate whether or how the boy responded.
When the teen got into Paulish’s vehicle, the conversation turned sexual, the priest told police, and the pair began removing their pants, according to the affidavit. The teen, who was interviewed and examined at the Children’s Advocacy Center, told police he then performed a sex act on the priest.
Paulish, whose address was listed as 450 Third St., Blakely, has been serving as an assistant pastor at Prince of Peace Parish in Old Forge, but in past years he was assigned to posts in Exeter, Hazleton, Wilkes-Barre and Bear Creek, according to Diocese of Scranton records.
“I wish to acknowledge how unsettling this is to me personally and to countless others,” Scranton Bishop Joseph C. Bambera said, as the diocese released a statement pledging to cooperate with investigators.
“Upon being notified of this incident, the cleric was immediately removed from his assignment and his faculties to exercise priestly ministry were suspended,” the diocesan statement read.
Diocesan officials asked that anyone who might have been sexually abused by Paulish or any member of the clergy notify the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office at 570-963-6717 or local law enforcement.
“As for the potential for other victims we will continue to review all of the evidence and follow any potential leads,” McCambridge told The Times Leader.
The leader of a national organization for victims of priestly abuse on Friday questioned whether the diocese’s actions go far enough. “What do I think of the (bishop’s) statement? In three words: the bare minimum,” said David Clohessy, executive director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Instead, Clohessy said, Bambera needs to personally take his appeal to worshippers at parishes where Paulish worked.
“We’re talking about centuries of Catholic parishioners thinking, ‘If I say anything, I’ll bring shame onto my parish, my faith,’” Clohessy said. “It should be an emphatic personal appeal that will jolt people into coming forward and calling 911” if they have anything further to report.
The diocese also released a list of Paulish’s assignments over the quarter century since he was ordained, including several stays in Luzerne County.
Paulish’s first two assignments were in Clarks Summit and Williamsport, but he went on to serve as an assistant pastor at St. Cecilia’s in Exeter from January to June 1992, followed by a posting to Most Precious Blood, Hazleton, from June 1992 to July 1993. He returned to Luzerne County in January 1994, serving as chaplain of Little Flower Manor, Wilkes-Barre, until July 2000.
Paulish returned to Luzerne County again in 2006, serving seven months back at St. Cecilia in Exeter. He later served as administrator and pastor at St. Elizabeth in Bear Creek between 2008 and 2011.
Lackawanna County detectives charged Paulish with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a person under 16, indecent assault of a person under 16, unlawful contact with a minor (sexual offenses), corruption of minors and indecent exposure.
Paulish was arraigned before District Judge James A. Gibbons and committed to the Lackawanna County Prison in lieu of $50,000 bail. A preliminary hearing was set for Wednesday.