BROOKVILLE — A former Roman Catholic priest, David Poulson, 65, of Oil City, returned to the Jefferson County Courthouse Friday to be sentenced on two felony charges in regards the sexual abuse of children.
Poulson had appeared before Jefferson County Common Pleas Court Judge John Foradora last October and pleaded guilty to the corruption of minors (F3) of a sexual nature and endangering the welfare of children (F3). He was sentenced to 30 months to 14 years in state prison and was immediately placed in handcuffs and taken into custody by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department following the sentencing.
Poulson had pleaded guilty in October to the charges were in connection to repeated sexual assaults against one boy and the attempted assault of another. The boys were age 8 and 15 at the time of the abuse.
In October, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro had noted during a press conference that Poulson would be” registered as a sexual predator for a minimum of 10 years.” Foradora, however, noted that since Poulson will be under the state’s control for the next 14 years, that registration was no longer a part of the sentencing.
Attorney Daniel Dye, a senior prosecutor for Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office, read into the court record statements from the two victims. The first victim statement asked for “true justice to be served on this day,” and also noted that the victim forgave Poulson. The second victim’s statement noted the manipulation Poulson used to make the victim think he was a friend, mentor and trustworthy. “I trusted you, and in return, you tried to take advantage of that trust,” Dye read.
The plea in October and Friday’s sentencing was handled in Jefferson County because some of the reported abuse occurred at a remote cabin in the Cook Forest area. The incidents occurred close to 10 years ago. The assaults occurred at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Fryburg and Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Cambridge Springs.
Defense attorneys Chris Mohney and Casey White argued that Poulson had also done a lot of good in his 40 years as a priest with the Diocese of Erie. And while the criminal acts should overshadow the good acts they shouldn’t erase them. White noted that Poulson in his guilty plea had accepted responsibility for his actions and should not be given a jail sentence, but instead suggested long-term probation.
Mohney noted that the victims were not asking for jail time. He called for the judge to offer justice tempered with mercy, having mentioned a house arrest component or probation with special conditions as a possible sentence.
Poulson offered a brief statement in which he first “expressed gratitude for those who supported him” through letters of support and encouragement via phone or letters. Then he thanked his defense team for their support of him and told the prosecution team that he felt no ill will toward them or the grand jury and included the victims. Finally, he said, “Most importantly I’m sorry for the actions I committed. They were both criminal and sinful.”
In handing down his sentence, Foradora noted that he felt he had to mention “where the church is; where the Diocese is; and how we got here.” He quoted from the Bible several pieces of scripture that involved Jesus telling the disciples to let the children come to him and one from the Gospel of Matthew that says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Foradora noted that he could not understand how someone in authority, referring to retired Bishop Donald Trautman who interviewed Poulson in 2010 but did not report him to authorities, could put children at risk for eight years.
Poulson was not reported until September 2016 in response to a subpoena from the grand jury. Poulson was allowed by the Diocese to remain in ministry until 2018, when he was finally suspended by Bishop Lawrence T. Persica.
Persica issued a statement Friday in the wake of Poulson’s sentencing. “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 has 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 David served, and with all those who are experiencing the pain of this situation.”
Foradora noted a factor in the sentencing was that the incidents were not by accident but that Poulson set them up in taking picking up the victim and taking him to the remote cabin. He also noted that any good Poulson did as a priest could not outweigh a sentence of incarceration because of his attack on the trust of children. Once such an attack happens, he noted, it can never be reversed.
“Two of Poulson’s victims received justice today, and their courage continues to inspire me and every member of our prosecution team,” Shapiro said, who referred to the two victims who were not at the sentencing, as well as several others who were but whose cases were past the statute of limitations, as heroes.
One such survivor is Jim Van Sickle, who attended the sentencing. He said he thought Poulson’s apology was sincere.
Poulson is the second Catholic priest sentenced for sexually abusing children in Pennsylvania. Last month, Father John Sweeney of Westmoreland County was sentenced to prison, for sexually abusing a boy while serving as a parish priest.
In August, the Grand Jury’s findings revealed 301 Catholic priests identified as predator priests who sexually abused children and more than 1,000 children abused by predator priests, according to Shapiro.