David Lee Poulson was sentenced in Jefferson County after pleading guilty in October to corruption of minors and child endangerment. He is one of two priests charged as a result of a scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report that named almost 300 predator priests of abusing more than 1,000 victims over seven decades in six of the state’s dioceses.
The hearing Friday lasted more than an hour including statements from two victims read by prosecutors and a brief apology from Poulson, who addressed the court before he was sentenced.
Poulson, 65, who served in the Diocese of Erie, told the court his actions were “criminal and sinful.”
“I am ashamed of what I did,” he said after hearing the victim impact statements.
Casey White, an attorney for Poulson, argued in court that he should receive house arrest or probation because he’d also done significant good during his time as a priest. White said the court was sentencing the Catholic Church as a whole.
Poulson was immediately taken into custody at the sentencing.
The allegations against Poulson include several years of abuse or attempted abuse against at least two boys. Prosecutors alleged he abused an altar boy in different church rectories more than 20 times, often requiring the boy to then make confession and confess the abuse to Poulson.
The complaint alleges Poulson also took that boy and another to a remote cabin in the woods where he would watch horror movies with them before attempting to abuse them.
The two boys were 8 and 15 when the abuse occurred between 2002 and 2010.
“Two of Poulson’s victims received justice today, and their courage continues to inspire me and every member of our prosecution team,” Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement after the sentencing. “For more than 7 years, the Diocese of Erie allowed Poulson to remain a priest, even though they knew he was a predator.”
Shapiro called the sentence significant. The maximum possible sentence for Poulson was 14 years. He will have to serve at least 2½ years before being eligible for parole.
The Erie diocese turned over a “confidential memorandum” dated in 2010 that contained an admission by Poulson that he had been “aroused” by a boy, prosecutors said. Poulson resigned from the Erie Diocese earlier this year, after a military chaplain in Texas reported a 23-year-old had alleged that he was abused by Poulson starting at age 8, prosecutors said.
Bishop Lawrence Persico, who took over the Erie Diocese years after the memorandum, issued a statement late Friday afternoon, calling it a sad day for everyone affected by Poulson’s crimes. He said Poulson had agreed as part of his plea to be removed from the priesthood and he had sent the necessary paperwork to the Vatican.
“It’s my hope that the events of this day will bring a measure of healing to victims,” Persico wrote.
The other priest charged in the investigation, the Rev. John Thomas Sweeney of the Greensburg Diocese, pleaded guilty to indecent assault this summer and was sentenced last month to 11½ months to five years in state prison. He pleaded guilty in July to misdemeanor indecent assault on a minor after being accused of forcing a 10-year-old boy to perform oral sex on him while counseling the fourth-grader about misbehaving on a school bus.