Court Upholds Ex-priest's Corruption Conviction
By Joe Mandak
February 24, 2014
A three-judge appeals court panel has upheld an ex-priest's conviction on a charge that he corrupted a 15-year-old boy by encouraging the teen to disobey his mother, but one judge on the panel said the court may have illegally broadened the statute in the process.
The Superior Court opinions were issued Friday concerning the 2012 conviction of Samuel Slocum, a suspended Bradford priest accused of encouraging the teen to visit him even after his mother forbade that. Slocum wasn't accused of sexually abusing the boy, though police and McKean County District Attorney Raymond Learn argued some comments by the priest were flirtatious.
Judges Sallie Mundy and William H. Platt ruled the corruption-of-minors conviction should stand because encouraging disobedience corrupted the boy, even though disobedience, itself, isn't a crime. The third judge, Christine Donohue, also agreed to uphold the conviction, but she said it was proper only because the priest was convicted of another crime, concealing the child's whereabouts.
Donohue said upholding the corruption conviction because the priest encouraged the boy to disobey his mother was "constitutionally questionable."
She argued that the court has, in the past, upheld corruption-of-minors convictions only when the person committed another crime that affected a minor or encouraged the minor to commit a crime. The ruling by the other two judges "departs from our precedent and allows for the conviction of a citizen of crime based on conduct our legislature has not specifically criminalized."
Slocum's attorney, David Ridge, didn't immediately return a call for comment Monday.
St. Vincent College law professor Bruce Antkowiak, a former federal prosecutor and defense attorney, agreed with Donohue.
Is the statute "overly broad or vague as applied in situations where the adult does not commit another underlying crime?" Antkowiak said. "That's where any further appellate activity in this case is going to become very interesting."
The professor asked what might happen if a teacher or another adult gave a child a book to read "that contains viewpoints the parents violently disagree with. Would that now be construed as a crime?"
Slocum, 62, was sentenced to two years' probation, a term set to expire later this week. The former Erie Catholic bishop has already said the priest's felony conviction will keep him out of active ministry.
Learn, the prosecutor, wouldn't speculate on whether the corruption of minors statute might now be challenged on constitutional grounds saying each case is fact-specific. "We're pleased with the outcome and we think justice was served," Learn said.
Slocum was convicted after Learn proved that Slocum continued to contact the boy for three months in 2011 and urged him to lie about their relationship to his mother even after she told the priest to stop seeing the boy.
The priest testified he didn't befriend the boy and other teens because he was attracted to them, but because he was lonely.
The teens often hung out at Slocum's former rectory at Our Mother of Perpetual Help Church in Lewis Run, where they played pool and computer games, or watched a big-screen TV in a recreation room that Learn argued was furnished to make the teens want to spend time there.