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May 08, 2018

Catholic priest in Pennsylvania charged with sexual abuse of two boys

Erie pastor allegedly took juveniles to remote cabin where some assaults occurred after watching horror films

Investigation Sexual Abuse
Rev. David Poulson Erie priest Provided image/Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General

Rev. David Poulson, 64 and a priest in the Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania, is charged with indecent assault, endangering the welfare of children and corruption of minors for the alleged abuses of two boys.

A Catholic priest in the Diocese of Erie is charged with sexually assaulting two boys, including an altar boy whom the priest allegedly abused after Mass on Sundays and then made go to confession to describe the incidents, authorities said.

Rev. David Poulson, 64, was arrested Tuesday morning and charged with indecent assault, endangering the welfare of children and corruption of minors, Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced at a press conference Tuesday.

Prosecutors said Poulson, of Oil City, began abusing one of the boys when the child was 8 years old. The second boy was 15 when the alleged abuse began. A grand jury alleged Paulson sexually abused the two boys for several years. 

The grand jury's findings paint a disturbing picture of Poulson's alleged behavior, which may have impacted several other children whose cases would have lapsed under the statute of limitations. 

While employed in active ministry, Poulson allegedly abused one boy repeatedly in the church rectories at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Fryburg and St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Cambridge Springs.

On more than 20 occasions, Poulson allegedly abused the boy after he served as an alter boy at Mass on Sundays. Poulson would then require the altar boy to confess to him about the sexual assaults, prosecutors said.

Authorities said there also is evidence Poulson allegedly abused both children during trips to a remote hunting cabin in Jefferson County, where he would watch horror movies with the boys before allegedly sexually assaulting them.

Poulson served in various parishes during his time in the Erie diocese. His assignments included St. Agnes in Morrisdale, St. Michael’s in Fryburg, St. Anthony of Padua in Cambridge Springs, and St. Bernadette, also in Cambridge Springs.

A secret diocesan memorandum from May 2010 included confirmation from church leaders that complaints had been made about Poulson. The memo includes an admission from Poulson that he was "aroused" by young boys and shared sexually explicit text messages with them, investigators said.

Only in response to a subpoena from the grand jury did the Diocese of Erie take action to report Paulson's alleged behavior. Nine other men who had contact with Poulson told investigators similar stories of abuse, according to prosecutors. 

“The time of protecting powerful institutions over vulnerable children is over, and anyone who abuses kids will have to answer to my office,” said Shapiro, who also called for abolishing Pennsylvania's criminal statute of limitations for sex crimes against children.

Poulson's arrest comes a week after Shapiro's office accepted plea deals from two Franciscan Friar supervisors in Blair County. They are among the first U.S. clergy members to be held criminally liable for covering up sexual abuse by other clergy. 

Anyone with additional information about sexual abuse by Poulson or any other priest is urged to contact the Attorney General's Clergy Abuse Hotline at (888) 538-8541. 

“The victims we speak for today were abused by a man who was supposed to protect them,” Shapiro said. “They were abused in sacred places where their families thought they were safe. We are committed to protecting every victim of sexual abuse. No one is above the law. We will pursue the facts and the evidence wherever we find it.”