Former Catholic priest pleads guilty to charges in child sex abuse case in Jefferson County

Rose James
Staff Writer

Two victims, ages eight and 15, received a form of justice as Father Douglas Poulson pleaded guilty to corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of children, third-degree felonies, during a hearing of the Jefferson County Common Pleas Court Wednesday morning.

Following the hearing, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro held a press conference.

“Today, there can be no doubt that David Poulson is a priest who preyed on children for his own sexual gratification. He is now an admitted sexual predator and will be registered as a sex offender for a minimum of 10 years. Early this morning, David Poulson entered a guilty plea and admitted his conduct before Court of Common Pleas Judge John Foradora,” Shapiro said. “Poulson pleaded guilty to corruption of minors, sexual in nature, and endangering the welfare of a child. These are third-degree felonies. Poulson faces a maximum of 14 years in prison and a fine of $30,000. He will face sentencing in about 90 days, in order to have an evaluation by the state sex offender registration board.”

Judge John Foradora ordered that the defendant shall be assessed by the Sexual Offender Assessment Board, and upon receipt of said assessment, the court will conduct a hearing to determine if he should be designated a sexually violent predator.

Shapiro then spoke on the case. “Poulson used the tools of his priesthood to abuse children and even made one of the children go to confession to ask for forgiveness for being sexually assaulted. The priest who heard the confession was Poulson himself. Poulson also assaulted this victim and attempted to assault a second boy at a remote hunting cabin that he owned with a friend right here in Jefferson County. In an effort to assault them, he lured the victims to the cabin for a weekend stay; they watched horror movies together on his laptop while they lived out the horror inflicted on them by Father Poulson,” Shapiro said.

He noted that Bishop David Troutman of the Erie Diocese held an interview with Poulson, who at the time admitted “being aroused by boys.” However, they did not report him until the current bishop, Lawrence Persico, suspended him in 2018. Shapiro said that during that time, Poulson abused again.

Jim VanSickle, another victim of Poulson who was unable to press charges because of the statute of limitations, spoke on the plea heard in court. “It was emotional for me to actually see him for the first time. I was here for his preliminary hearing, but for some reason, I didn’t lay eyes on him. At the end, when he stood up and walked out, I made sure that I stood up so he could see me; he did not make eye contact with me. For me, that was important. But I have to be honest with you. To be in this room, I think all survivors at this point want that opportunity to see their predator in court, and the only ones that can help us with that is the Senate.

“As far as this whole thing, this was actually about two young men who were brave enough to come forward and tell their story and strong enough to stand up and go through this process. I am almost happy that they have had this day, I am happy for them and I hope that they can start to heal and don’t have to live the life that I’ve lived, feeling like I wasn’t whole because they were. I think it is important that people understand that for me, this isn’t the end, this is just the beginning. David Poulson is a predator, he is guilty, and I still would like to see him in court under the law, but I have seen a new process in my life where I am speaking out, and I will continue speaking out.”