Lawsuits Alleged Priest Sex Abuse Happened under Church’s Nose

By Patrick Kernan
Times Leader
August 28, 2019

Shortly after making a filing in Lackawanna County Court on Wednesday morning, Attorney Kevin Quinn, of Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn, spoke before reporters in a hotel conference room in downtown Scranton. His tone was a somber one, as he’s representing four men who claim they were repeatedly raped by a Roman Catholic priest decades ago.

What’s more, Quinn said, the Diocese of Scranton is directly responsible for decades of cover-ups, with both Bishops James Timlin and Joseph Bambera named as defendants in the suit.

Three of Quinn’s four clients — John Patchcoski, Jim Pliska and Mike Heil — appeared to speak with reporters Wednesday morning. The fourth man chose to file his suit anonymously for the protection of his family, and his suit is filed under the initials “M.A.” Each of the four men have their own, separate suits now ongoing in Lackawanna County.

The four men, who all grew up in the Minooka section of Scranton, each claim they are victims of the same priest: the late Father Michael Pulicare, who worked as the assistant pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish, which has since been renamed Divine Mercy at St. Joseph’s, on Davis Street, Scranton.

Behind Quinn, a picture of Pulicare was displayed by a projector: a black-and-white headshot, where Pulicare looks at the camera. Dark haired and bespectacled, Pulicare gives a slight smile for the camera.

But in Quinn’s words, a far more damning picture of Pulicare was painted.

“Mr. Patchcoski, Mr. Pliska and Mr. Heil were all sexually abused by Father Pulicare when they were between the ages of 11 and 12 years old, and what happened to them all happened in an eerily similar manner — at Father Pulicare’s parents’ house, following a day of fishing,” Quinn said.

What M.A. underwent, though, was different. According to Quinn, M.A. was molested on “dozens and dozens of occasions” all around the diocese, including the rectory of St. Peter’s Cathedral, the headquarters of the Diocese of Scranton, and even some out-of-state locations.

Quinn said the abuse in the cathedral rectory happened more or less under Timlin’s nose.

“The abuse at the cathedral rectory occurred multiple times when Bishop Timlin was acting bishop, resided under that same roof and knew that Father Pulicare was ‘grooming’ M.A. to be a priest-in-training and, incredibly, sleeping in the same bedroom and bed as M.A. in the cathedral rectory,” Quinn said. “That started when M.A. was just about 9 or 10 years old.”

During the news conference, Quinn did not go into much detail about the specific actions Pulicare allegedly committed, leaving reporters to read those details in the suits themselves.

“I can assure you that the details are disturbing and include rape, sodomy, child pornography and many other disgusting and vile acts that have understandably left our clients with indelible emotional scars,” he said.

Pulicare, who Quinn characterized as a “monster,” passed away in 1999, and previously, his alleged victims had thought that, as they say, was that. But details that came out after last year’s grand jury report brought by Attorney General Josh Shapiro into the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania suggested a pattern of coverups, leading to the suits.

Quinn also suggested that the much-publicized Victim’s Fund isn’t enough, especially since the deadline for pursuing claims is steadily approaching.

However, he said court precedent lays a path forward. A recent Superior Court decision in the case Rice v. Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown states that, in cases of active conspiracies covering up clergy abuse, “it is up to a jury to decide whether it is reasonable for victims to come forward now to pursue civil remedies,” Quinn said.

After Quinn’s lengthy comments, he allowed Patchcoski, who had been elected by the group of plaintiffs to act as a spokesman of sorts, to say a few words.

According to Patchcoski, his decision to come forward came last summer after learning about the grand jury report on CNN. At the time, Patchcoski was stuck in a Florida hospital room dealing with a medical emergency, where he spent much of last summer. He said the experience convinced him that he needed to tell his story.

Patchcoski contacted a Wall Street Journal reporter, who wrote a piece on Patchcoski’s experiences with Pulicare. Through that story, Patchcoski eventually came into contact with the other plaintiffs.

Patchcoski suggested there was an obvious history of abuse during the fishing trips at Pulicare’s parents’ Kingston home: he said that, when he arrived at the home for the fishing trip all those years ago, Pulicare’s mother commented, “I hope this boy doesn’t wet the bed like the last one.”

Patchcoski said he’s wrestled with thoughts of suicide for decades due to Pulicare’s alleged actions. After the news conference, he told reporters just how close he got.

Now 57, he remembers the thought first entering his head when he was still a preteen, shortly after his alleged rape.

“I remember I went to the cliffs down behind the Kmart (in Minooka) and I would just inch closer to the edge,” he said. “I was too chicken to jump, but I just hoped something would break and I would fall.”

In the suits

The suits filed in Lackawanna County Court were voluminous, each describing the experiences the men claim they underwent.

While much of the language between each overlaps, there are details that are unique to each individual account.

Each of the men say that, when they were boys, Pulicare allowed them to “regularly use the parish facilities and grounds to further gain their trust and respect so that he could later exploit that trust and respect as he satisfied his perverted, deviant sexual desires through child rape, sodomy and other disgusting acts of sexual abuse and molestation,” the suit reads.

M.A., born in 1974, grew up attending St. Joseph’s, with the suit noting he comes from a “very religious family,” with his mother always wanting him to become a priest. Pulicare began “grooming” M.A. to become a priest when he was only 7.

For some time, Pulicare acted as a “friend and mentor” to M.A., bringing him to the rectory to watch TV and movies together, and buying model trains and other gifts for him. Their relationship eventually grew to the point where they went on multiple overnight trips, sharing the same bed.

During dozens of interactions, M.A. said Pulicare touched him inappropriately and forced M.A. to touch Pulicare inappropriately, occasionally even performing oral sex on each other. Pulicare also allegedly took photos and videos of M.A. while he was sleeping or naked in the bathroom.

M.A. is the plaintiff who claims to have been raped during an overnight stay at the cathedral rectory, and he even suggests that Timlin came up behind him, massaged his shoulders in a “suggestive, creepy manner,” and said something along the lines of “So this is our new priest in training.”

As Quinn suggested, the other three plaintiff’s stories are all similar.

Each say they were taken to Pulicare’s family’s Kingston home for an overnight fishing trip. The trips occurred on different occasions.

Heil’s trip was in the summer of 1974, when he was 11. After fishing, Pulicare took Heil back to the home for an afternoon nap, while both of his parents were home. He took Heil to his own bedroom, telling Heil to strip to his underwear.

When he awoke, he said he saw Pulicare and another adult male standing by the bed, taking photos of him in his underwear. Later that night, Heil said he awoke to Pulicare “‘dry humping his leg like a dog,” and then tried to force his penis into Heil’s mouth. Heil says he “soiled himself” out of fear, seeming to coincide with what Patchcoski said he heard Pulicare’s mother say.

Patchcoski also went to the Kingston home in the summer of 1974, when he was 12. He said he awoke to Pulicare on top of him, grinding his weight into him, masturbating and ejaculating on him.

Pliska’s trip was the next summer, in 1975, when he was 12. He says, in the evening, he was awakened by Pulicare who “flipped him over on his stomach and violently raped and sodomized (Pliska).” The attack left him bleeding.

Each of the three named plaintiffs all specifically say Pulicare said at some point “real men sleep in their underwear.”

Diocesan response

In a release sent by Eric Deabill, secretary of communications for the Diocese of Scranton, the diocese declined to comment on the specifics of the suit, instead deciding to provide “certain context.”

“The lawsuits rely on a novel legal theory in an attempt to circumvent the long-established statute of limitations in Pennsylvania,” the diocese claims. “That theory relies entirely on a recent case that remains on appeal.”

Further, the diocese says it never received any allegation of abuse by Pulicare until July 2018, nearly 20 years after his death. However, they did add Pulicare to its list of “credibly accused individuals” last December.

It also points to the Survivor Compensation Program, saying these plaintiffs also could have sought to be compensated by the program.

“The Diocese will review the allegations when they become available and it hopes that it can resolve this litigation swiftly,” the statement ends.

‘Give ’em hell’

During the news conference, Patchcoski said he’s lost the support of some people in his life, including a sibling, who felt that going up against the Catholic Church was in some way wrong. However, he said that making his story known was more important.

Patchcoski, who lives in Florida now, said he was recently in a Washington, D.C., airport flying up to Scranton.

When someone who worked at the airport asked why he was going there, he said he considered not telling her the truth, but then figured, “What the hell,” he said.

After he told her the story, Patchcoski said the woman’s response was simple, saying she was proud of him for coming forward.

“Give ’em hell,” she told him.








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