In Plea, Priest Implicates former Erie Bishop in Cover Up of Abuse
BROOKVILLE — A former Catholic priest for four decades in the Diocese of Erie, David Poulson, pleaded guilty today to felony crimes in connection with repeated sexual assaults against one boy and the attempted assault of another boy. Poulson pleaded guilty to corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of children – third-degree felonies — in a hearing in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court. Poulson was arrested and charged in May by the Office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
The victims were eight and 15 years old at the time of the acts committed against them.
“Poulson assaulted one of his victims in church rectories,” said Attorney General Shapiro, in a news conference following Poulson’s plea at the Jefferson County courthouse in Brookville. “He made that victim go to confession and confess the abuse – to Poulson. He used the tools of the priesthood to further his abuse. Today, Poulson is being held accountable and facing justice for his crimes.”
Poulson was charged earlier this year by a Statewide Investigating Grand Jury probing widespread sexual abuse by clergy against children in six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, including the Diocese of Erie.
According to the grand jury’s presentment:
- Poulson sexually assaulted one victim repeatedly in church rectories at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Fryburg and Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Cambridge Springs. The abuse at the rectories usually happened on Sundays – after the victim served as an altar boy at Mass. These assaults took place more than 20 times.
- Poulson required this victim to make confession to the sexual assaults – to Poulson, who heard the boy’s confession.
- Poulson also assaulted this victim and attempted to assault a second victim at a remote hunting cabin that he owned with a friend in Jefferson County. In an effort to assault them, Poulson would bring the youths to the cabin and watch horror movies with them on his laptop.
Since at least May 2010, the Diocese of Erie knew of Poulson’s sexual predator tendencies – but did nothing to report him to authorities until September 2016, in response to a subpoena from the grand jury. In a May 24, 2010 secret memorandum – hidden in church archives for six years – Poulson admitted to being “aroused” by a boy and sharing suggestive texts with numerous other boys.
Poulson was assigned to various parishes during his tenure as a priest in the Diocese of Erie. His assignments included serving as Pastor of St. Agnes in Morrisdale, St. Michael’s in Fryburg, St. Anthony of Padua in Cambridge Springs, and St. Bernadette in Cambridge Springs.
“Two of Poulson’s victims received justice today, but because of outdated statute of limitations laws in Pennsylvania, other victims may never have their day in court,” Attorney General Shapiro said.
Attorney General Shapiro was joined at today’s news conference by senior prosecutors in the Attorney General’s Office and by Jim VanSickle, who was abused by Poulson as a young man, but whose case was barred by the criminal statute of limitations.
The findings of the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury – were released in a comprehensive 884-page report in August. It revealed pervasive abuse of children by priests in the Dioceses of Allentown, Erie, Harrisburg, Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton, and a systematic cover up spanning decades by senior church leaders in Pennsylvania. The grand jury found:
- 301 Catholic priests identified as predator priests who sexually abused children.
- Over 1,000 children abused by predator priests, with the grand jury noting it believed the real number of victims was in the “thousands.”
- Senior church officials, including bishops, monsignors and others, knew about the abuse committed by priests, but covered it up to avoid scandal, criminal charges against priests, and monetary damages to the dioceses.
- 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 Grand Jury recommended reforming the criminal and civil statutes of limitations on sexual abuse in Pennsylvania, among four recommendations. Attorney General Josh Shapiro reinforced those recommendations today, calling on the Pennsylvania Senate to 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 the 23 men and women of the Grand Jury who unanimously voted to recommend these four reforms,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “The time of protecting powerful institutions over vulnerable children is over. The Senate has a clear choice to make: It can stand with victims and survivors of sexual abuse and vote yes on these reforms. Or, it can stand with the Church and its lobbyists and fail to act.”
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