ERIE, Pa. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The lawyer for a victim of child sexual abuse at the hands of a priest claims the $2 million settlement is validation that his client did nothing wrong.
Now in his 20s, a man who suffered abuse at the hands of Fr. David L. Poulson when he was a child will be awarded $2 million to help rebuild his life and continue to heal.
Announced at a press conference on Tuesday, Mitchell Garabedian, the attorney for the victim, said, "Father Paulson is a cunning and clever child predator." Garabedian was joined by Robert M. Hoatson, the founder of Road to Recovery, and James Faluszczak, a former priest turned whistleblower.
Hoatson thanked the victim, identified only as "Victim #1" in the Pennsylvania grand jury report, and credited his courage and perseverance to talk about the abuse relatively soon after it happened. Hoatson said that in his work with over 5,000 victims since 2003, most victims are in their 50s before they begin to talk about it.
Victim #1 was abused for eight years between 2002 and 2010 under the leadership of Bp. Donald Walter Trautman. Bishop Lawrence Persico took the helm of the diocese of Erie in 2012.
In October, Poulson pleaded guilty to two counts of child sexual abuse and is serving a sentence of two and a half to 14 years in state prison.
This is one example of how sexually abusive priests are left in ministry by their bishops and handed off to their successors to deal with. Bishop Richard Malone in the diocese of Buffalo, New York is another example.
From 2004 to 2012, Bp. Malone was the head of the diocese of Portland, Maine. In the cases of Fr. Paul E. Coughlin and Fr. Thomas M. Lee, Bp. Malone did little to protect future victims. He quietly reinstated Coughlin after a known pederast was found to be living with him in the rectory but reversed his decision after chancery staff expressed their outrage.
Bishop Malone also did little to prevent Fr. Lee from remaining in ministry. The investigation into Fr. Lee yielded a 60-page report that detailed the sexual abuse he allegedly committed on children and included testimony from almost a dozen victims. The review board found the allegations credible, and he was removed from ministry. Father Lee appealed the decision and after a "rigged" tribunal, returned to ministry, where he remains active.
Bishop Trautman was also one of the clerics that was attempting to block the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report. He later reversed course, saying that the block "could further injure victims of abuse" but only on the condition that the accusations levied against the bishops were not applied to him — those being that the victims were brushed aside and the main thing was not to help children but to avoid scandal.
Garabedian did not hold back in his criticism of the bishops. He said, "Take away their robes and take away their religion and they're criminals."
When asked if this would cause the diocese of Erie to declare bankruptcy, both Garabedian and Faluszczak agreed that it was a "red herring." Garabedian said that the diocese will have to declare their assets, but they will still be given enough funds to operate.
He reiterated his criticism of the bishops and added, "Whatever has to be done to protect children needs to be done."
Faluszczak said the lack of protection of the most vulnerable shows the leaders of dioceses are "morally bankrupt."
Garabedian also advocated for an increase in the statute of limitations. Current Pennsylvania law only allows a victim under the age of 30 to come forward. He added that the crime of murder has no statute of limitations and child sexual abuse shouldn't either — as that crime also destroys a life.
"Saying sorry isn't enough when the person who is saying sorry knew there was a file," Garabedian said.
Faluszczak agreed, saying Bp. Persico, the current bishop of Erie, ignored his complaints.
"Seventeen years after the Dallas Charter, these crimes are still going on in our diocese," he said.
Garabedian explained that there are no other conditions on the settlement. He said the Catholic Church hasn't asked the victims to sign a non-disclosure agreement for a couple of decades.
When asked if there were any criminal charges coming, Garabedian said it would be up to the attorney general and added, "Not that I know of."