A former Pennsylvania priest, one of two clergy members to face criminal charges in a statewide probe that sparked a national conversation about Catholic sexual abuse, was sentenced Friday to serve up to 14 years in prison.
David Poulson, who served as a priest for more than 40 years in the Diocese of Erie, pleaded guilty before his sentencing to corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of children. Prosecutors say he assaulted one victim, an altar boy, more than 20 times, usually in a church rectory after the boy served at Mass. He attempted to assault a second boy at a remote hunting cabin, where he brought both boys and watched horror movies with them, prosecutors said. The events took place in the 2000s.
The grand jury that investigated six of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses published a massive report last August that rattled Catholics across the country. In the report, the jurors detailed allegations of abuse by 301 priests over a span of more than 70 years. Many of those priests are deceased, and the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse crimes had already run out on almost all the others. The jury only brought charges against two of the priests: Poulson and John Sweeney of the Greensburg diocese.
Both pleaded guilty. Sweeney was sentenced last month to 11.5 months to five years in prison for abusing a 10-year-old boy in the early 1990s, the maximum sentence under state law, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Poulson’s sentence, handed down in Jefferson County on Friday, was also a wide range: 2½ years to 14 years.
Joe Grace, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, said the 14-year upper boundary is the maximum sentence allowable under state law.
One of Poulson’s victims said in a statement read in court on Friday, “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.” Another man also participated in a news conference after the sentencing with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has led the grand jury investigation and the subsequent push to remove the statute of limitations so that more of the priests in the report can be charged. That man said that he too was abused by Poulson, but the alleged abuse was too long ago for Poulson to face charges for it.
The state legislature debated proposals last year that would have extended the statute of limitations or lifted the statute of limitations entirely on child sex crimes as numerous states have done. The proposals did not pass.
Since Pennsylvania’s report came out, more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia have pledged to open similar investigations into crimes allegedly committed by Catholic priests. The Pennsylvania report led Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who previously served as bishop of Pittsburgh, to retire early because of fierce criticism of his response to sexual abuse cases involving priests.