SCRANTON — A Roman Catholic priest facing sex charges involving a teenage boy was released from jail on bail Tuesday afternoon, while his lawyer urged the public to hear his client’s side of the story before rushing to judgment.
The Rev. William Jeffery Paulish, 56, was released from the Lackawanna County Prison at about 1:45 p.m. after posting $50,000 straight bail, Carbondale defense attorney Bernard J. Brown said.
“I just want the public to wait,” Brown said, adding that he and his client have yet to challenge the prosecution’s allegations in court. “And I’m going to ask the jury, if we get to that point, to extend to Father Paulish the presumption of innocence.”
“I do have a defense strategy,” Brown added, although he said it was premature to discuss specifics.
Ordained in 1988, Paulish has served at more than a dozen Northeastern Pennsylvania parishes, including assignments in Exeter, Hazleton, Wilkes-Barre and Bear Creek, according to diocesan records.
Security officers at Penn State Worthington Scranton said they discovered Paulish parked in a red Toyota on Thursday night with a 15-year-old boy who wasn’t wearing any pants, according to an affidavit.
Paulish allegedly told police under questioning at the Dunmore police station that he arranged the meeting via the online site Craigslist. Paulish also allegedly told police he asked the teen three times whether he was 18 before their conversation turned sexual.
Arrest papers did not indicate how or even whether the teen responded.
The teen told police he performed a sex act on the priest, the affidavit states.
Brown said he was not formally retained until Saturday afternoon, and did not see the criminal complaint against his client until Monday.
“He was alone in there, by himself,” Brown said of Paulish’s questioning by police.
Terms of bail
Paulish’s bail was secured by real estate, court documents say, but the property in question was not listed. His address in arrest papers was listed as 450 Third St., Blakely.
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, who was serving as an assistant pastor at Prince of Peace Parish in Old Forge, was removed from that assignment and his ability to act as a priest was suspended by the Diocese of Scranton when officials were notified of the charges against him.
In a letter read to parishioners in Paulish’s former parishes on Sunday, Diocese of Scranton Bishop Joseph C. Bambera urged “anyone who may have been involved in or may be aware of any abusive situation involving Father Paulish to immediately contact the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office.”
Lackawanna County Deputy District Attorney Jennifer McCambridge on Tuesday said in an email that the case remains under investigation, and she was “not at liberty to discuss any more details.”
“We will continue to follow all leads,” McCambridge said.
Diocesan officials also have declined to speak further on the allegations against Paulish, to explain why Paulish may have moved around so frequently and what prompted three leaves of absence — two citing only medical reasons, and one for which no reason was listed.
“Bishop Bambera’s practice has been to share a cleric’s assignment history following his removal from ministry due to an accusation of sexual abuse of a minor. As such, in the case of Father W. Jeffrey Paulish, in addition to issuing a statement about the matter, the diocese also shared the cleric’s assignment history and affirmed its commitment to cooperate fully with law enforcement’s criminal investigation into this very serious and disturbing matter,” diocesan spokesman Bill Genello said Tuesday in an email to The Times Leader.
“In consideration of that commitment, and since it is an ongoing investigation, the diocese will not offer further comment until the investigation is complete,” Genello concluded.