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Father Poulson: ‘I know there is nothing I can do that will undo the harm that I caused.”
BROOKVILLE, Pa. (EYT) – “Finally, justice was served!” stated Attorney General Josh Shapiro on Friday to a group who were gathered outside the Jefferson County Courtroom following the sentencing of former Fryburg priest, David Poulson.
(Photos by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)
“Poulson weaponized his faith and used the tools of his priesthood to abuse children here in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said during the press conference following Poulson’s sentencing on Friday afternoon.
“He even made one victim go to confession and seek forgiveness for being sexually assaulted. The priest who heard that confession was Poulson himself. In addition to the assaults on church property, Poulson also assaulted this victim and attempted to assault a second victim at a remote hunting cabin he owned with a friend right here in Jefferson County.”
David Poulson, 65, who pleaded guilty in October to Corruption of Minors and Endangering the Welfare of Children – both felony crimes – addressed the court on Friday afternoon prior to his sentencing.
“I know there is nothing I can do that will undo the harm that I caused,” said Poulson.
“I am ashamed for what I did. Listening to the victim impact statements has added to the remorse and regret that I already felt. I was stunned to the heart to hear the effect my actions had.”
Poulson also stated that he held “no ill will or bad feelings” toward the prosecution, grand jury, the attorney general, or his victims.
Jefferson County President Judge John H. Foradora sentenced Poulson to an aggregate sentence of two and a half to 14 years in prison.
“Today, finally, finally, justice was served upon David Poulson, a priest who preyed on children for his own sexual gratification,” Shapiro said.
“I was in the courtroom with our team and this group of survivors, and it was a powerful moment to see justice brought down on that predator priest.”
Shapiro also noted the significance of Poulson’s sentence, which was the maximum sentence for the charges on which he pleaded guilty.
“Understand these are difficult cases. Far too often, predator priests either have not been charged because their enablers manipulate the statute of limitations as church officials cover up their crimes to protect the institution instead of victims,” Shapiro said.
“The stiff sentence imposed today on Poulson sends another very clear message, here in Jefferson County and all across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and indeed I believe people across this country are listening, that the era of institutional cover-ups has ended. We will not state for it in the Office of Attorney General. The church putting its own reputation above the needs of children, we simply will not stand for it.”
Poulson was charged last May 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.
- 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 under Bishop Donald Trautman knew of Poulson’s predatory tendencies – but did nothing to report him to authorities until September 2016, in 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 Persico.
“For more than seven years, the Diocese allowed Poulson to remain a priest, even though they knew he was a predator, they allowed him to stay there as a threat to others,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro also shared some of the words of Poulson’s two victims, from the victim statements, which had been shared in the courtroom.
“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,” Victim #1 wrote.
“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 that trust,” Victim #2 wrote.
“The courage of those two survivors, the courage of the survivors who grace us with their presence today is extraordinary. These survivors, as I’ve said before, are heroes. And so while not every victim of clergy abuse across our Commonwealth was in court today, or represented by those two specific victims, I hope they receive they receive some sense of closure today as victim two hopes,” Shapiro said.
“As Poulson is led off to prison in handcuffs, I hope that these survivors know, I hope that these survivors feel that people are listening. We are listening in the office of Attorney General, people of Jefferson County are listening, people of Pennsylvania are listening, and indeed the whole world is 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, and we are listening.”
According to Shapiro, Friday’s sentencing of Poulson and the sentencing of Father John Sweeney in Westmoreland County last month are two battles won, but far from the end of the war.
“The release of the report in August has sparked a movement and a reckoning in this country,” Shapiro said.
“Fourteen state Attorneys General have publicly acknowledged opening investigations into clergy sex abuse of children within their jurisdiction…the United States Department of Justice has opened a federal investigation of clergy abuse and, as reported, has instructed every diocese in the country to preserve documents in their possession detailing abuse allegations.”
“Catholic diocese across the nation have released the names of more than 1,000 priests accused of sexually abusing children, with more such exposures expected in the coming weeks. No longer can they play hide and seek with the truth. People are now watching as a result of our work here in Pennsylvania.”
While the progress fueled by the Grand Jury report in Pennsylvania has been significant, Shapiro’s final message focused less on that progress, and more on steps he believes we still need to make going forward.
“While all of this is happening, one action that has not yet happened is the approval by our legislature of the reforms recommended by the grand jury to prevent this type of abuse from ever happening again here in Pennsylvania and to give victims of clergy abuse their day in court,” Shapiro noted.
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 Legislature and Governor Wolf 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 every victim and survivor of child sexual abuse, and continue to support the passage of all four reforms recommended by the Grand Jury,” Shapiro said.
“The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed them. The Senate, thus far, has chosen not to take up each of the four recommendations or to put it before its members for a vote. I am confident, as I was before the session ended, and as I remain today, that if these reforms are brought up for a vote in the State Senate, they will pass.”
According to Shapiro, the current statute of limitations prevented not only charges against more of the priests named in the Grand Jury report, but also charges against those who covered up the abuse.
“We ran a statute of limitations test on anyone involved in enabling or covering up that abuse, and again, because of the laws of this commonwealth, we charged, at that time, those who could be charged,” Shapiro said.
“The Catholic Church, in an organized and sophisticated manner here in Pennsylvania, covered up these crimes, so they would be outside the statute of limitations. It’s why we’re pushing so hard, it’s why the Grand Jury recommended those four reforms, in order to ensure that something like this could never happen again. That includes both the abuse and the cover-up.”
While the reforms the Attorney General and the Grand Jury are recommending may or may not be forthcoming, Shapiro noted that his office plans to continue leading the way in the battle against child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania.
“Wherever we find child sexual abuse, in a doctor’s office, as we did in Johnstown not long ago, in a university, as we did in State College, or in places of worship or hunting cabins in Jefferson County, we’re going to investigate, we’re going to prosecute, we’re going to hold people accountable.”
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