“A priest of the Catholic Diocese of Erie has been charged with multiple counts of sexual abuse against two young boys over a period of eight years.
David L. Poulson, 64, of Oil City, has been arraigned on a total of eight counts involving boys who were ages 8 and 15 at the time when the abuse started, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in announcing the charges Tuesday.
The charges were recommended by a statewide investigating grand jury, which found that Poulson sexually assaulted the boys while employed in active ministry as a priest by the Erie diocese, Shapiro said.
According to the grand jury presentment made public Tuesday, Poulson sexually assaulted one victim repeatedly in church rectories at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Fryburg and St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Cambridge Springs. The abuse at the rectories usually happened on Sundays — after his victim served as an altar boy at Mass, according to the grand jury. The assaults took place more than 20 times, the grand jury found.
“He made that victim go to confession and confess the abuse — to Poulson,” Shapiro at a news conference at the Erie County Courthouse where Poulson’s arrest was announced. “This was the ultimate betrayal and manipulation by Poulson. He used the tools of the priesthood to further his abuse.”
On Feb. 13, the diocese announced Poulson had resigned as pastor at St. Anthony after the diocese said it received what it believed to be credible allegations against Poulson regarding the sexual abuse of children.
“The diocese apologizes for the crimes of its priest/employees and has taken numerous steps to ensure that the sins of the past are not repeated by using trained independent investigators/lawyers, improving training on detecting grooming behaviors, centralizing abuse-reporting mechanisms, and understanding any missteps in detecting prior cases of abuse,” Bishop Lawrence Persico said in a statement Tuesday.
“The Diocese of Erie is fully committed to preventing, detecting and reporting abuse in the best manner possible going forward,” Persico said.
Shapiro said the grand jury also found Poulson also assaulted the first victim and a second victim at a remote hunting cabin that Poulson owned with a friend in Jefferson County.
According to the grand jury, the cabin was off-the-grid and was located 10 minutes off the main road in a rural location. Poulson would take the boys to the cabin, watch horror movies with them on his laptop and then assault them, the grand jury found.
Shapiro said the diocese knew since at least May 2010 of Poulson’s sexual predator tendencies – but did nothing to report him to authorities until September 2016, in response to a subpoena from the grand jury.
The diocese, which was under the leadership of then Bishop Donald Trautman, even produced a May 24, 2010, secret memorandum, in which diocesan leaders confirmed complaints had been made about Poulson’s inappropriate contact with minors, Shapiro said.
Shapiro said the church memorandum was hidden in church archives for six years. In the memorandum, Poulson admits being “aroused” by a boy and sharing sexually suggestive texts with numerous other boys, Shapiro said.
Poulson was arraigned on four counts of indecent assault, two counts of endangering the welfare of children and two counts of corruption of minors. Three of the charges against Poulson — indecent assault on a person under age 13, endangering the welfare of children and corruption of minors — are graded as third-degree felonies.
Poulson is being held in the Jefferson County jail near Brookville in lieu of $300,000 bond awaiting a preliminary hearing on May 21 before Magisterial District Judge Gregory Bazylak of Brookville. The case will be heard in Jefferson County as that is where cabin where the alleged abuse took place, Shapiro said.
Earlier this year, the grand jury learned of the first victim’s sexual abuse by Poulson, after a military chaplain at Fort Hood, Texas, phoned the Erie diocese and said the victim – now 23 years old – had disclosed he was sexually abused by Poulson when he was a child, Shapiro said.
Diocese officials interviewed Poulson, who admitted he owned the hunting cabin and that he took an estimated 20 trips there – half of which were with young boys, Shapiro said.
Poulson admitted to diocesan officials he was attracted to young men and provided the names of the boys he took to the cabin, Shapiro said. The diocese, which was cooperating with the Office of Attorney General and the ongoing grand jury investigation, turned the boys’ names over to investigators, Shapiro said.
The grand jury heard from nine other men who had contact with Poulson when they were minors, Shapiro said. Poulson supplied the boys with gifts, cash, dinners and alcohol, Shapiro said. In at least one of these cases, it was believed evidence of a sexual assault existed, but it was barred on statute of limitations grounds, Shapiro said.
Poulson was assigned to various parishes during his tenure as a priest in the Diocese of Erie. Poulson’s assignments included serving as pastor of four different parish churches, including St. Agnes in Morrisdale, St. Michael in Fryburg, St. Anthony of Padua in Cambridge Springs and St. Bernadette in Saegertown.
Shapiro said anyone with information about sexual abuse by Poulson or any priest to contact the Office of Attorney General’s Clergy Abuse Hotline at (888) 538-8541. The investigation into sexual abuse by priests and other clergy is ongoing, Shapiro said.”