Former Catholic priest David Poulson gets 2 1/2-14 years in child sex abuse case

Rose James
Staff Writer

BROOKVILLE — Friday afternoon, Jefferson County Judge John Foradora sentenced David Lee Poulson, who pleaded guilty to corruption of minors, sexual in nature, and endangering the welfare of a child at a Oct. 17, 2018, court hearing, received 2 1/2 to fourteen years in a State Correctional Institution.
During the sentencing, Foradora heard from Senior Deputy Attorney General Daniel Dye and Poulson’s defense lawyers, during which time, victim impact statements and testimony from Poulson himself were heard.
Dye read the statements from each of the victims, who were eight and 15 at the time of the sexual offenses.
The first victim’s statement read: “David Poulson affected my life in more ways than I can count. It has cost me my career and my marriage and my daughter. Because of this man’s actions, I have suffered for years from mental anguish. I ask that true justice be served on this day.”
The second victim’s statement was similar, saying that “I convinced myself that the road trips, gifts, dinners, etc. were just you being that friend. But it was all for an ulterior motive. You used your position as a man of the cloth as a way to manipulate young boys. I trusted you, and in return, you tried to take advantage of me.”
Poulson’s lawyer, Casey White, also addressed Judge Foradora prior to hearing from Poulson. He spoke to the merits of Poulson’s career during the past 65 years, asking him to look at all the merits in lights of the sins he had committed.
White further said that Poulson “did commit unspeakable acts, but that shouldn’t be a reason to forget his 40 years of service.”
It was also asked that the crimes Poulson committed be sentenced as his crimes alone and not as crimes committed by the Catholic Church, and that county-length sentences be considered in lieu of state sentences.
Poulson was then given time to address Foradora and those present in the courtroom, at which time he apologized to the victims.
“I want to express my gratitude to everyone who has supported me over the past few months. I want to express my gratitude to those who were involved in my legal defense. They’ve been a great support to me throughout this whole experience. I hold no ill will or bad feelings toward the prosecution or the grand jury or my victims. I pray for all of you every day. It’s not so I can get a favorable outcome. I’m praying that you have happy, successful lives. I’m sorry for the actions that I’ve committed. They were both criminal and sinful. I’m ashamed of what I did. Listening to the victim impact statements has added to the remorse and regret that I’ve already felt. I know there is nothing I can do that will undo the harm that I caused them. I apologize to them. I am sorry for what I did, and I ask they continue to forgive me for what I did. I was the responsible adult. I knew better and should have exercised greater restraint.”
After a brief recess, Foradora spoke to Poulson, expressing that he took advantage of the victims and their families’ religion, all while serving in a position of authority. He told Poulson that if he knew he had a problem, he should have worked to prevent the acts from happening.
Foradora also stated that the Diocese of Erie under Bishop Donald Trautman knew about the abuse and failed to remove him from his duties as a priest, and thus put the public at risk for over eight years. He then sentenced Poulson to 2 1/2 to 14 years in a state correctional institution. It was also stated that the Sexual Offender Assessment Board will not require that Poulson register.
In attendance at the sentencing was Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who held a press conference following the sentence being delivered.
“Eight months ago I announced grand jury charges against David Poulson, a Catholic predator priest, for the sexual assault of two boys in the Diocese of Erie,” Shapiro said. “Poulson assaulted one of his victims more than 20 times in church rectories. He made victims go to confession and confess the abuse — to Poulson. He used the tools of the priesthood to further his abuse. Today, Poulson was held accountable and now faces a significant jail sentence.
Shapiro then spoke on the sentence.
“The prison sentence imposed on Poulson is significant. Understand that these are difficult charges and far too often, predator priests have not been charged because they are enablers and manipulators, and the statute of limitations and church officials cover up their crimes to protect the institution and scare the victims,” Sharpiro said. “The stiff sentence imposed today on Poulson sets another clear message here in Jefferson County and across the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and even across the country that the era of institutional cover-ups has ended. We will not stand for it in the office of attorney general. The church putting its own reputation above the needs of children is something we will not stand for.”
It was added that during the investigation, it was found that Trautman “knew of Poulson’s predatory tendencies but did nothing to report him to authorities until September of 2016, in a response to a subpoena from the grand jury. Trautman himself interviewed Poulson in May 2010, and Poulson admitted to the bishop that he was aroused by boys. Despite knowing of Poulson’s admission, the priest was allowed by the diocese to remain in ministry until 2018, when he was finally suspended by Bishop Lawrence Persico.”
He said that some form of closure was received by the victims that day as Poulson was sent off to prison and last month as Father John Sweeney of Westmoreland County was sentenced to prison for sexually abusing a boy while serving as a parish priest.
“I hope these survivors know and feel that people are listening. We are listening, the office of attorney general and Jefferson County is listening, people in Pennsylvania and the whole world are listening and believing their truth. No longer do they have to keep it inside, no longer do they have to live in shame or secret. They are the heroes, and they are the ones who deserve to be heard,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro then noted the 884-page
report from the grand jury found 301 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania to be predators of over 1,000 children. This report also noted that senior church officials, including bishops and monsignors, knew about the abuse committed by priests and likewise covered it up. In the report, it also stated that “priests committed acts of abuse upon children, and were routinely shuttled to other parishes while parishioners were left unaware of predators in their midst.”
“The release of the report in August has sparked a movement and a reckoning in this country. Our clergy abuse hotline has received 1450 calls since it was activated on August 14. Our trained agents answer every single call, and a number of these calls are of interest to us,” Shapiro said.
It was said that dioceses throughout the country are being asked to preserve documents, as a federal investigation is in the works to end clergy abuse.
“Catholic dioceses across the nation have released the names of more than 1,000 priests accused of sexually abusing children, with more such disclosures expected in the coming week,” Shapiro said. “No longer can they play hide and seek with the truth. People are now watching the results of our work here in Pennsylvania. But while all of this is happening, an action that has not yet happened is the approval by our legis-lature of the reforms recommended by the grand jury to prevent this type of abuse from ever happening again here in Pennsylvania.”
The legislation Shapiro spoke of would reform the criminal and civil statutes of limitations on sexual abuse in Pennsylvania. The reforms noted would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for sexually abusing children, create a “civil window” so older victims could sue for damages, clarify penalties for failing to report child abuse and specify that civil confidentiality agreements do not cover communications with law enforcement.
“I stand with every victim and survivor of child sexual abuse and continue to support the passage of all four reforms recommended by grand jury,” Shapiro said. “Eliminating the criminal statute of limitations is absolutely essential. The state House and Senate have both approved its elimination at different times. I strongly recommend that the legislature work together to pass a bill eliminating the criminal statute of limitations. Gov. Wolf will sign that bill into law immediately.”
Shapiro concluded his conference saying “today’s stiff sentence directed at this predator priest makes a clear statement that no one who abuses a child is above the law. Because of the survivors and the 23 men and women of the grand jury, two predator priests now sit in prison. Whereever we find child sexual abuse, we are going to investigate, we are going to prosecute and we are going to hold people accountable. This is the work that our office will continue to do.”
Late Friday afternoon, Bishop Persico released the following statement: “This is a very sad moment for everyone who has been impacted by the crimes committed by Father David Poulson. It’s my hope that the events of this day will bring a measure of healing to victims. As part of his plea, Father Poulson agreed to seek laicization, meaning he will no longer be a member of the clergy. He had made the request and the diocese has sent the necessary documents to the Vatican. My prayers are with the victims, with the parish communities where Father Poulson serves and with all those who are experiencing the pain of the situation.”
Poulson, during his tenure as a priest in the Erie Diocese served as pastor at St. Agnes in Morrisdale, St. Michael’s in Fryburg, St. Anthony of Padua in Cambridge Springs and St. Bernadette in Cambridge Springs.

PHOTO: Justice was served for the victims of former Catholic priest David Poulson as he was sentenced 2 1/2 to 14 years is a state correctional institution on Friday. (Left photo) Poulson is seen being escorted by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department and his attorneys to the sheriff’s vehicle after sentencing.