Alleged priest impersonator arrested

July 14, 2009 4:04:18 PM PDT
Philadelphia police have arrested a 26 year old man who allegedly impersonated a priest, and even admitted comforting the family of an injured police officer. Paul Schlear, 26, says he meant no harm at all, only to offer comfort as he posed as a man of the cloth during times of crisis for the family of a severly injured policeman.

Late Tuesday Schlear was released from jail on $5,000 bail, charged with criminal trespass and false impersonation.

"I did it. I made the decision to do those things, and that's it," said Schlear.

Police say Schlear conned his way into Aria Hospital posing as a Catholic priest to comfort the family of Officer Richard Hayes, who remains in a coma after being struck by an allegedly drunk driver late last month.

"I'm very sorry and if I could take it back I would," said Schlear.

Schlear says he has an uncontrollable compulsion to pull these hoaxes. He admits spending two weeks, often staying overnight, with the Hayes family.

They are said to be livid.

"At one point he got a phone call. He said 'Oh my God, this is from Rome, I have to take this.' He walks out of the room, comes back in, and says 'That was the cardinal calling from Rome. He has the pope and the cardinals from Rome praying for your son," said Capt. John McGinnis of the Philadelphia Police.

"One night the officer wasn't doing very well and the family looked really despaired the phone rang and I said the cardinal was checking in on them," Schlear said. "I'm sure the cardinal is checking in on them, but he wasn't in contact with me."

Schlear admits he attended the funerals of two slain officers wearing white clergy garb. That includes last September's funeral for Sgt. Patrick McDonald and the service for Ofc. John Pawlowski in February.

On his MySpace page, Schlear also claims to be a Philadelphia firefighter.

Schlear could get some jail time. The criminal trespassing charge to which he readily admits is a low level felony.

He says he going to seek mental health counseling.

Schlear said he was a seminary student a few years ago, but resigned for personal reasons.

Philadelphia Archdiocese officials call this matter "deeply disturbing."