Police arrested a man this week who they allege had been impersonating a Roman Catholic priest and visiting with families of slain and injured Philadelphia police officers. The man’s online social-networking pages appear to indicate that he is gay.
Paul Schlear, 26, turned himself in to police July 13 and was charged with criminal trespassing and false impersonation. He was released on $500 bail.
Police say Schlear donned a priest’s clerical garb and visited numerous times with the family of Police Office Richard Hayes, who was critically injured when a drunk driver hit his patrol car last month.
A police official, however, thought Schlear looked too young to be a priest and launched and conducted a background check on him, finding that he had only completed one year of education at a seminary.
In an interview with CBS 3 Tuesday night, Schlear admitted to posing as a priest in order to provide comfort to the Hayes family.
“I said I was a Catholic priest. I said to them I had received a call from the Cardinal and that he was just checking on them,” he described of an instance in which he pretended he was on a cell phone with Cardinal Justin Rigali.
“I feel terrible for the Hayes family because they’re going through enough, and I didn’t need to do what I did,” Schlear said.
Hayes is still recovering in the hospital.
Schlear also told the reporter that he took part in the funerals for slain Sgt. Patrick McDonald in September and Officer John Pawlowski in February, walking in the funeral procession in a white robe known as an alb, which can be worn by laypeople.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia released a statement this week stating that Schlear had asked the Rev. Dennis Gill, director of the Archdiocese’s Office for Worship, if he could be an altar server for the Masses, but Gill declined the offer and instead told Schlear he could walk in the processions in a section designated for laypeople.
The Archdiocese called Schlear’s visits with Hayes’ family “disturbing” and said his actions “violat[ed] the sacred trust that a family places in a priest at a time of crisis.”
“The Archdiocese, which has fostered a close prayerful relationship with the men and women of the Philadelphia police force and their families, is pained by the duplicity of anyone who would betray the church and cause such hurt to God’s people in such a vulnerable position,” the statement said.
Police are investigating claims that Schlear, dressed as a priest, borrowed thousands of dollars from a local restaurant owner and never repaid him, and also said this week that Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers once witnessed Schlear posing as a firefighter and instructed him to remove the garb.
Schlear’s MySpace page shows photos of him with the 2007 Mr. Gay Philadelphia, at Woody’s Christmas party and at other area LGBT locales.
Schlear belongs to numerous LGBT groups on Facebook, such as LGBT party The Scene; supporters of the statewide nondiscrimination bill, LGBT grantmaking organization Sapphire Fund, Gayborhood bar Valanni and LGBT film festival QFest, among others.
Schlear is also a member of the GLBT Arts Festival volunteer group online, but T. Desiree Hines, organizer of the festival, said Schlear did not volunteer for the event and was in no way associated with The Traverse Arts Project, which staged the festival this past spring.
Hines did note, however, that she frequently saw Schlear at local gay bars and events.
“I do know him as a member of the community. Any time I would run into him being out and about, he was always just such a nice, very handsome young man,” Hines said. “He was very respectable, well-dressed and clean cut. I’m a little heartbroken that Paul of all people would do something like this.”
Schlear, of the 2900 block of Arlan Avenue in the Northeast, is a 2001 graduate of Father Judge High School who attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary from 2002-03 but did not finish his education there. According to his Facebook page, he will graduate from Holy Family University in 2010 with a master’s degree, although the university said this week that Schlear has attended the school only “sporadically.” Schlear also describes that he served as student-body president in 2004, but university officials said the only student-government leadership position he held was as one of four representatives of the junior class.
On his MySpace page, Schlear states that, since January 2007, he served as the deputy chief of staff to the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, which at that time would have been Dennis O’Brien (R-169th Dist.). But O’Brien told the Philadelphia Inquirer this week that Schlear had never been an employee.