Former Erie diocese priest admits to sexual assault
By Ron Southwick
October 17, 2018
|David Poulson, a former priest in the Catholic Diocese of Erie, has pleaded guilty to crimes related to sexually assaulting one boy and attempting to assault another.|
A former priest in the Diocese of Erie has admitted to sexually assaulting one boy and attempting to assault another boy, the state attorney general's office said Wednesday.
David Poulson pleaded guilty to two felony crimes - corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of children - in a hearing in Jefferson County Common Court.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who has led the grand jury investigation of clergy sex abuse across Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania, said the former priest assaulted a victim in church buildings. Citing the plea, Shapiro is urging lawmakers to revamp state law to help victims of clergy sex abuse take their cases to court.
"Poulson assaulted one of his victims in church rectories," Shapiro in a news conference at the courthouse in Brookville. "He made that victim go to confession and confess the abuse - to Poulson. He used the tools of the priesthood to further his abuse. Today, Poulson is being held accountable and facing justice for his crimes."
Poulson assaulted one boy repeatedly at two different churches and attempted to assault another boy at a cabin, the grand jury presentment found.
The Diocese of Erie knew about Poulson's behavior since 2010 but didn't report him to authorities until 2016, the attorney general's office said. Poulson was charged earlier this year.
In a statement, Bishop of Erie Lawrence Persico said his diocese will inform authorities of any sexual misconduct with minors.
"I remain very saddened by every aspect of this situation," Persico said in a statement. "Many hearts have been broken, particularly those of the victims and their loved ones."
Poulson's plea comes as lawmakers in Harrisburg wrestle over reforms to allow child sex abuse victims who were assaulted decades ago to seek justice in court.
Echoing the recommendations of the grand jury, Shapiro has urged lawmakers to create a window to allow victims to file civil suits, even if the assaults occurred decades ago.
"Two of Poulson's victims received justice today, but because of outdated statute of limitations laws in Pennsylvania, other victims may never have their day in court," Shapiro said.
Under existing state law, victims must pursue civil lawsuits by age 30 and criminal charges by age 50.
Lawmakers largely agree on abolishing the statute of limitations for criminal cases going forward. But the battle continues over allowing individuals to sue for abuse that occurred decades ago.
Today is expected to be the crucial day for the bill to aid child sexual abuse victims since it is the state Senate's last day of the legislative session.
State lawmakers are debating a measure to revamp the state's statutes of limitation and create a window for victims to sue. The bill cleared the state House but Senate Republican leaders have said there are constitutional issues with creating a window for past abuses.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, a Jefferson County Republican, has pushed a plan to create a fund to compensate victims. Catholic dioceses across Pennsylvania have said they would support such a fund.
Scarnati said the state constitution would have to be amended to allow a retroactive window for civil lawsuits. Scarnati contends the compensation fund would offer genuine relief while sparing victims the pain of court battles.
Catholic dioceses, including the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg, have said creating a window to file lawsuits could lead to dioceses declaring bankruptcy.
Advocates for victims, including state Rep. Mark Rozzi, argue that a compensation fund is insufficient. A Berks County Democrat, Rozzi was sexually assaulted by a priest and insists that victims deserve the chance to pursue justice in court.
Rozzi and other advocates argue a compensation fund for clergy victims doesn't offer relief to other individuals who were sexually assaulted as children outside the church.
On Wednesday, Rozzi issued a statement criticizing what he described as a essentially remove the window. Rozzi said there is speculation that the bill will be amended to shield institutions from being subject to a retroactive window to sue.
"A window that does not include institutions is not a window at all," Rozzi said.