Father David Poulson, who had served for two-and-a-half years as pastor at St. Agnes in Morrisdale, Clearfield County, and as an administrator at St. Francis of Assisi in Clearfield, was charged Tuesday with the sexual abuse of two boys over a period of many years.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the charges and grand jury report around 10:30 a.m. in Erie. The grand jury also alleges that the Diocese of Erie knew about Poulson's sexual predator tendencies since at least May 2010 — but did not report them to authorities until September 2016, in response to a grand jury subpoena.
Poulson, 64, of Oil City, was arrested Tuesday morning at his mother's house without incident, Shapiro said, and charged with indecent assault, endangering the welfare of children and corruption of minors. Three of those charges are felonies.
The statewide investigating grand jury found that Poulson sexually assaulted the boys — one of whom was 8 years old when the alleged abuse started and the other 15 — for years while employed in active ministry as a priest by the Erie diocese.
The grand jury's presentment alleges that Poulson repeatedly assaulted one of the victims in church rectories at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Fryburg and St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Cambridge Springs. The presentment goes on to detail that the alleged assaults would usually occur on Sundays, after the boy served as an altar boy during mass. Poulson would then allegedly require the boy to make confession in the church, and confess to the assaults — to Poulson, who served as the priest receiving the boy's confession.
“This was the ultimate betrayal and manipulation by Poulson — he used the tools of the priesthood to further his abuse,” Shapiro said.
The grand jury also alleges that Poulson assaulted both boys in a remote hunting cabin he co-owned with a friend in Jefferson County. Poulson allegedly brought the boys to the cabin, which lacked electricity, heat and running water, watched horror movies with them on his laptop, then assaulted them.
In response to the 2016 subpoena by the grand jury, the Diocese of Erie produced a May 24, 2010 secret memorandum in which diocesan leaders confirmed complaints had been made about Poulson's inappropriate contact with minors. Within the memo, which had been hidden in church archives for six years, Poulson allegedly admits to being "aroused" by a boy and sharing sexually suggestive tests with numerous other boys.
Shapiro said that the grand jury first learned about the abuse by Poulson after a military chaplain at Fort Hood, Texas, phoned the Erie diocese earlier this year and said the first alleged victim — now 23 — had disclosed he was sexually abused by Poulson as a child.
Diocese officials then interviewed Poulson, who admitted he owned the hunting cabin and took about 20 trips there — half of which were with young boys. He allegedly admitted he was attracted to young boys, and provided the names of the boys he took to the cabin. The diocese, in cooperation with the attorney general and grand jury investigation, then turned over the names of the boys to investigators.
In addition to the two boys from which the charges stem, the grand jury heard from nine others who recalled Poulson befriending them, flirting with them, joking and wrestling with them when they were minors. Poulson allegedly plied them with gifts, cash, dinners and alcohol. Prosecutors believe a sexual assault occurred in at least one of theses cases, but it was barred on the grounds of statute of limitations.
“These victims are remarkably brave young men — who have struggled with the trauma of Poulson’s abuse for years,” Shapiro said. “It is no surprise the victims kept this secret for so long. They were attacked by the very person they were taught to respect and admire.”
Poulson has been taken to Jefferson County Jail on bail of $100,000.
Poulson's arrest comes on the heels of the sentencing of two Blair County Franciscan friars who pleaded no contest to child endangerment charges for allegedly covering up abuse by Brother Stephen Baker in the Altoon-Johnstown diocese. They are among the first clergy members in the country to be held criminally liable for covering up sexual abuse of children by other clergy, and are the first members of a religious order in Pennsylvania to be sentenced for protecting clergy who abused children.