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Poulson Sentencing Gives Victims Closure
BROOKVILLE, Pa. (EYT) – Friday’s sentencing of former Catholic priest, David Poulson, of Oil City, for his repeated sexual assaults against one boy and the attempted assault of another boy may be providing a small step toward closure for some victims.
Poulson, who pleaded guilty in October to one count each of felony corruption of minors and felony child endangerment, was sentenced by Jefferson County President Judge John H. Foradora to two and a half to 14 years in prison, the maximum possible for the charges.
Poulson addressed the court during the sentencing hearing on Friday, offering a combined confession and apology.
“I know there is nothing I can do that will undo the harm that I caused, but I apologize to them,” said Poulson. “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.”
He also spoke about the effect of hearing the victim statements, which were read aloud at the sentencing by prosecutor Senior Deputy Attorney General Daniel Dye.
“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.”
(Photo by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)
The Victim Impact Statements Poulson referenced were written by the two victims whose testimony resulted in the charges against him.
Victim #1, Joseph Schillinger, said in his statement that he wanted his name read in court.
“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,” Schillinger’s statement said.
“To David Poulson, I forgive you and may God have mercy on you.”
Victim #2, whose name remained anonymous, 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. I hope this sentence will help to bring some closure to anyone who has been a victim of this man.”
“He took something that was sacred and he made it sinister. He took something divine and made it diabolical,” Dye noted.
While Poulson’s defense team argued for leniency, citing 20 letters, many from former parishioners, in support of Poulson, as well as the fact that he was the primary caregiver for his elderly mother, Judge Foradora made his thoughts on the matter very clear.
“These were children who trusted you. These were faithful parents who thought their children would be safe with a priest,” Foradora said, going on to quote Bible passages, at length, that touched on the theme of ministering to children and never seeking to “cause a child to stumble.”
Foradora also criticized church leadership, particularly former Erie Catholic Bishop Donald W. Trautman, who allowed Poulson to continue to function as a priest even after the church’s investigation of Poulson in 2010.
“The public was potentially at risk for eight years because of the bishop’s actions,” Foradora noted.
Since at least May 2010, the Diocese of Erie under Bishop Donald Trautman reportedly 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 Lawrence Persico.
Bishop Persico released the following statement on 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.”
(Photo by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)
Poulson Case Background:
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.
Poulson was assigned to various parishes during his tenure as a priest in the Erie Diocese. 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.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro Addresses Poulson Verdict
“Today, finally, finally, justice was served upon David Poulson, a priest who preyed on children for his own sexual gratification,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said during the press conference following Poulson’s sentencing on Friday afternoon.
“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.”
While Shapiro focused much of his press conference on the issues surrounding child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania, and some of the changes in legislation he supports to allow more cases to be prosecuted, he also shared hopes for closure for the victims.
“Two of Poulson’s victims received justice today, and their courage continues to inspire me and every member of our prosecution team,” Attorney General Shapiro said.
“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.”
Jim VanSickle, who was abused by Poulson as a young man, but whose case was barred by the criminal statute of limitations, also spoke briefly to the members of the press in attendance following Friday’s press conference in Brookville.
“An appropriate sentence was given under guidelines, but for a survivor, I don’t think there’s ever enough time, just because our own abuse doesn’t ever end,” VanSickle said.
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