Second priest charged in grand jury sexual abuse probe heads to prison
A Catholic priest from the Erie Diocese on Friday became the second priest sentenced to prison in the wake of the Pennsylvania grand jury report that detailed allegations of child sexual abuse against 300 Catholic priests and cover-ups by church leaders.
A Jefferson County Common Pleas Court Judge sentenced David Poulson 65, who was a priest in the Erie diocese for four decades, to 2-1/2 to 14 years in prison for corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of children for sexually abusing two boys, aged 8 and 15.
Last month, John Thomas Sweeney , 75, a former priest in the Greensburg diocese, was sentenced to 11-½ months to five years in prison after pleading guilty to indecent assault in the sexual assault a 10-year-old boy at the St. Margaret Mary Church Catholic School in Lower Burrell in 1991 and 1992.
Although the grand jury report detailed scores of rapes and assaults in six Catholic dioceses across the state over a 70-year period, the statute of limitations had expired on all other cases and, in some instances, the alleged perpetrators were dead. The report, based largely on witness testimony and church records, concluded church leaders often transferred offending priests from parish to parish, allowing them to continue to serve unknowing parishioners.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro said church officials in Erie knew of Poulson’s crimes as early as 2010 but did not report him to law enforcement authorities.
“Poulson assaulted one of his victims more than 20 times in church rectories,” Shapiro said at a news conference following Poulson’s sentencing 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 was held accountable and now faces a significant jail sentence.”
Shapiro said former Erie Bishop Donald Trautman did not report Poulson to authorities until September 2016, in response to a subpoena from the grand jury. Poulson was suspended by Bishop Lawrence Persico last year.
“For more than seven years, the Diocese of Erie allowed Poulson to remain a priest, even though they knew he was a predator,” Shapiro said.
As he detailed Poulson’s offenses, Shapiro continued to press for reforms the grand jury recommended including:
- elimination of the criminal statute of limitations for sexually abusing children,
- a “civil window” so older victims can sue for damages,
- clarification of penalties for failing to report child abuse, and
- specifying that civil confidentiality agreements do not cover communications with law enforcement.
“Because of the work of our Pennsylvania grand jury, the men and women of my office, and the victims and survivors, we’ve sparked a movement across the country. We need to continue to spark change and reform through our work here in our commonwealth,” Shapiro said. “We owe it to every victim and survivor of sexual abuse anywhere.”