BROOKVILLE, Pa. — David Poulson, who served as a Roman Catholic parish priest in Crawford County until last February, will spend 2½ to 14 years in state prison for sexually abusing two boys while in active ministry.
Poulson, 65, of Oil City, was sentenced Friday in Jefferson County Court of Common Pleas after having pleaded guilty in October to one felony count each of corruption of minors sexual in nature and endangering the welfare of children for a sexual assault on one boy and an attempted assault of another boy.
Poulson served as the parish priest at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church in Cambridge Springs until mid-February 2018, when he stepped down after the Erie Catholic Diocese announced it received credible allegations of sexual abuse of children by Poulson.
The charges were filed against Poulson last spring by the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General in the wake of a two-year statewide grand jury investigation by the attorney general. The grand jury found evidence that at least 301 priests molested more than 1,000 children in dioceses across the state. A report on the grand jury’s findings was made public by the Office of Attorney General in August 2018.
Poulson was one of two priests charged due to the investigation. Others weren’t charged since the statute of limitations for their alleged crimes had expired.
In May 2018, Poulson was charged by the Office of Attorney General with a total of eight counts for sexually abusing two boys between 2002 and 2010 at various locations in Crawford, Jefferson and Clarion counties. The boys were ages 8 and 15 at the time the abuse started, according to the attorney general’s office.
Poulson was charged with abusing an altar boy in different church rectories more than 20 times, then often requiring the boy to make confession and confess the abuse to Poulson, according to the complaint.
The complaint said Poulson also took that boy and another to a remote cabin in the woods where Poulson would watch horror movies with them before attempting to abuse them.
Poulson reached a plea agreement with the attorney general’s office to plead guilty to corruption of minors sexual in nature and endangering the welfare of children.
By pleading guilty to the two charges, each a third-degree felony, Poulson faced up to 14 years in jail and a $30,000 fine plus registration as a sexual offender for at least 10 years.
Jefferson County common pleas President Judge John Foradora said he was sentencing Poulson to up to the maximum due to the nature of the crimes against children and since Poulson was a priest.
“All the letters of support and all the good you’ve done (as a priest) do not outweigh the pain you caused these two victims,” Foradora said. “It’s a matter of safety.”
“It’s a problem that you caused,” Foradora said, explaining why Poulson was in court Friday. “They were children in your care.”
Foradora sentenced Poulson to one year to seven years in jail and a $5,000 fine on the corruption of minors sexual in nature count and 1½ years to seven years and $5,000 fine on the endangering the welfare of children count with the two sentences to run consecutively.
Though Poulson is eligible for parole in 2½ years, Foradora said he was imposing up to the maximum of 14 years for three factors: the eight years of victimization of the children, victimizing children both at churches where Poulson had served and a remote cabin in Jefferson County, and because Poulson was in a position of authority.
As part of his plea deal, Poulson was to have to register as a sexual offender for 10 years. That stipulation was dropped by the attorney general’s office at Friday’s sentencing due to Poulson’s age and because Poulson will be under state parole supervision until he is age 79 — if released from prison.
Prior to sentencing, Poulson apologized in court for his actions — calling them “both criminal and sinful,” saying he took full responsibility.
“I was the responsible adult. I knew better,” he said. “I should have exercised self-restraint.”
Bishop Lawrence Persico of the Erie Roman Catholic Diocese issued a brief statement Friday afternoon, calling it a sad moment for everyone affected by Poulson’s crimes.
As part of Poulson’s plea deal, Poulson agreed to be removed from the priesthood and had sent the necessary paperwork to the Vatican.
“It’s my hope that the events of this day will bring a measure of healing to victims,” Persico said in the statement.
The other priest charged in the investigation, John T. Sweeney of the Greensburg diocese, pleaded guilty to indecent assault on a minor in July 2018 in Westmoreland County and was sentenced in December to 11½ months to five years in state prison.
He pleaded guilty after being accused of forcing a 10-year-old boy to perform oral sex on him while counseling the fourth-grader about misbehaving on a school bus.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.