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Pennsylvania priest gets up to 14 years in prison for molesting two boys

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Image: David Lee Poulson
David Lee Poulson, left, a Roman Catholic priest who pleaded guilty to sexually abusing two boys, heads to court for sentencing on Jan. 11, 2019 in Brookville, Pennsylvania. -
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Keith Srakocic AP file
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A Pennsylvania priest who sexually abused two boys over many years — and made them give confession to him after he molested them — is heading to prison.

The Rev. David Poulson, 65, was sentenced to at least two years and six months and up to 14 years as a group of survivors of sex abuse by other priests.

"I am sorry for the actions I committed," Poulson told the court in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania, Erie News Now reported. "They were both criminal and sins. I am ashamed for what I did."

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the victims were 8 and 15 years old when Poulson molested them. "It was a powerful moment to see justice brought down on that predator priest," he said after the sentencing at the courthouse in Brookville.

"Poulson assaulted one of his victims more than 20 times in church rectories. He made that victim go to confession and confess the abuse - to Poulson. He used the tools of the priesthood to further his abuse," the attorney general said.

In a statement that was read in court by a prosecutor, one of Poulson's victims said: "David Poulson affected my life in more ways than I can count. It has cost me my career and my marriage, and my daughter. Because of this man's actions, I have suffered for years from mental anguish. I ask that true justice be served on this day."

"I convinced myself that the road trips, gifts, dinners, etc. were just you being that friend," the other victim said in a statement that was also read in court. "But it was all for an ulterior motive. You used your position as a man of the cloth as a way to manipulate young boys. I trusted you, and in return, you tried to take advantage of that trust."

Poulson was named in a blockbuster grand jury report as one of 301 "predator priests" in Pennsylvania who preyed on more than 1,000 boys and girls.

Poulson, unlike all but one of the named priests, was charged with a crime because the assaults happened between 2002 and 2010, before the statute of limitations for charging him expired.

Poulson's victims were assaulted at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Fryburg and Saint Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Cambridge Springs.

The boys were also assaulted at a remote hunting cabin in Jefferson County that Poulson owned with a friend, Shapiro said. They would often watch horror movies on his laptop with the boys before assaulting them, he said.

The Diocese of Erie knew since May 2010 that Poulson was a predator, Shapiro said. But, it did not report Poulson to the police until September 2016, after it had been served with a subpoena, he said.

"For more than 7 years, the Diocese of Erie allowed Poulson to remain a priest, even though they knew he was a predator," Shapiro said.

The other priest named in the grand jury report who was charged with a crime was 75-year-old Rev. John Thomas Sweeney of the Greensburg diocese. He pleaded guilty to indecent assault this last summer and was hit in December with a 11.5 to five years in prison sentence in December, Shapiro's office said.

Meanwhile, the Boston lawyer whose efforts to expose pedophile priests in the Archdiocese of Boston were dramatized in the Oscar-winning moving "Spotlight" has gone to bat for three New Yorkers who say they were abused as children by two members of the clergy in New York City.

Lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, in an email Friday, called on Cardinal Timothy Dolan to "immediately publicly release" all records related to the abuse allegations against Bishop John Jenik and the late Monsignor Charles McDonagh.

Both priests were assigned to Our Lady of Refuge, a heavily Irish parish in the Bronx.

"Transparent action will help victims try to heal and for the world to understand how broad and horrible the scope of clergy sexual abuse is," Garabedian wrote.

Jenik was accused by Michael Meenan of molesting him as a teenager 40 years ago when the bishop was a priest at the Our Lady of Refuge. The accusation was deemed credible by the archdiocese's Lay Review Board.

The first active bishop to be accused of abusing a minor since a dozen states, including New York, opened investigations into priest sex abuse and alleged coverups by the Roman Catholic Church last summer, Jenik has denied the accusations.

But he said he would step aside "until the matter is settled."

"This is the hardest letter I have had to write in my 48 years of priesthood," Jenik wrote parishioners. "Would you also please pray for the person who brought this allegation against me, and for all those who are victim-survivors of abuse?"

Garabedian also represents two Bronx sisters who say the alleged abuse by McDonagh began at their home in 1972. The older girl was in her teens at the time. Her sister was just 7 years old.

McDonagh died in April 1999. The Archdiocese of New York said it was unaware of any abuse allegations against the priest until the two women came forward.