Seeking Compensation After Abuse Allegations in Scranton Diocese

SCRANTON, Pa. -- Time may be running out for some victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests because lawmakers are on the verge of killing a plan to give victims more time to sue for sex crimes.

Those men claim they were sexually abused in the 1970s by the same priest in Scranton, but that priest was not listed in a grand jury report released last year.

The three men we spoke with may not have their day in court, and they worry about pinning their hopes for justice on the diocese's victim's fund.

It is now Divine Mercy Parish in Scranton's Minooka neighborhood. It was St. Joseph's in the 1970s, and Fr. Michael Pulicare was its priest.

"When I was a little kid, he would kind of friend me. He would give me gifts and stuff like that," said John Patchcoski.

Patchcoski now lives in Florida and hosts a radio show, but in the mid-1970s, he played in the church's ballfield. He was 12 when he says Fr. Pulicare singled him out for a weekend trip.

"I'm not going to be ashamed of it anymore," he said.

Patchcoski's story mirrors that of two others who talked with Newswatch 16 off camera.

All three say Fr. Pulicare brought them alone to go fishing. They'd spend the night at the lakeside cottage owned by the priest's family. The only place to sleep was Fr. Pulicare's double bed.

"The next thing I knew is when he got in bed, I was being held down," Patchcoski recalled. "I was almost like I was paralyzed. I couldn't move, and I just had tears coming out of my eyes."

All three men describe a similar sexual assault, one that scarred them for life.

After the apparent assaults, all three tell us they had no interest in going to church or playing at the playgrounds behind the old building, and they never told their parents.

More than 40 years later, the three say they're paying for the price of their silence. They want to sue the Diocese of Scranton, but right now they can't.

"The church is being allowed to be the arbitrator of its own punishment," said attorney Kevin Quinn.

Quinn represents the three alleged victims.

Last summer, a statewide grand jury report named more than 300 priests it claimed molested children, but Fr. Pulicare was not among them. He died in 1999.

That grand jury also recommended lifting the statute of limitations for two years to give older victims a chance to sue the church, but state Senate leaders killed that, claiming courts would find that unconstitutional.

"Senate leaders prioritized the church over its victims," said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in October.

Unless the state Senate reverses its vote, Fr. Pulicare's accusers may have to apply to the Diocese of Scranton's Independent Survivors Compensation Fund.

So far, arbitrators for the diocese offered a total of more than $3.6 million to 31 people claiming to be sexual abuse victims, about $117,000 per award.

"It's not enough. The victims' fund does not hold the church accountable for its role in what happened here," Quinn said.

The Diocese of Scranton recently listed Fr. Pulicare as a "credibly accused individual," adding that Fr. Pulicare's name did not appear in the grand jury report but that will have no bearing on anyone's eligibility for compensation.

Patchcoski says he deserves compensation for an assault he claims led to a life of depression and misery.

"I couldn't keep it a secret any longer," Patchcoski said. "That church took 40-something years away from me, and every time I think about it or talk about it, I still swell up and I want to cry."

Patchcoski says he came forward because he was hospitalized with kidney failure about the time the report on predator priests came out. He didn't want to die with this secret.

Now, he hopes others speak out to pressure lawmakers to lift the statute of limitations so victims can go to court and not rely on the compensation fund from the diocese.

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