Feds investigating Catholic Church sex abuse scandal

Elias Hubbard
October 19, 2018

A law professor warned it was premature to assume a justice department investigation will necessarily reach higher up the church hierarchy than earlier investigations or end with more serious charges.

David Poulson, 64, who had been a priest in the Diocese of Erie for four decades, pleaded guilty to corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of children - third-degree felonies ― on Wednesday in Jefferson County Court of Common Pleas.

The Archdiocese of Erie confirmed it has received a subpoena from the Justice Department, and "its counsel is in conversation" with federal investigators.

The almost 900-page Pennsylvania grand jury report found that church leaders had engaged in a systematic cover-up by shuffling accused priests around to different parishes and in some cases working to prevent police investigations.

That's according to two people familiar with the probe, who say federal prosecutors have served subpoenas on dioceses across the state that seek a trove of sensitive files and testimony from church leaders.

The other priest charged in the investigation, the Rev. John Thomas Sweeney of the Greensburg diocese, pleaded guilty to indecent assault this summer and is awaiting his sentencing.

The Department of Justice has subpoenaed at least five Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania as part of an investigation into abuse by priests.

"The Diocese will cooperate fully with the request, just as it cooperated fully with the information requests related to the statewide Grand Jury", the Allentown Diocese said in a statement. The grand jurors said that the rest of the cases were too old to be prosecuted, because of statutes of limitations.

The Pennsylvania grand jury, which convened in 2016, interviewed dozens of witnesses and examined more than 500,000 pages of internal documents from six dioceses. More than 100 of the priests are dead, and many others are retired or have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave.

Poulson assaulted one boy multiple times and attempted to sexually assault another boy, Shapiro said in the release.

Shapiro said since the grand jury report was issued, a hotline operated by his office to field reports of child sexual abuse has received almost 1,300 calls.

The report also led to the resignation last week of Cardinal Donald Wuerl as archbishop of Washington. He was accused of helping to protect some child-molesting priests when he was bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988 to 2006. Many victims reported lifelong trauma, or even killed themselves, others kept their abuse secret while yet others have spent years fighting for justice. Lawmakers ended the session Wednesday without taking action.

In 2011, the Philadelphia district attorney's office brought a landmark cover-up case against Monsignor William Lynn, a longtime aide to two Philadelphia cardinals. The case illustrated how hard it can be to make such charges stick.

Lynn became the first US church official ever prosecuted for the alleged cover-up of child molestation by priests when he was arrested on child-endangerment charges. At trial, he said he had merely followed orders from above.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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