The Roman Catholic Diocese of Erie, Pennsylvania, recently agreed to $2 million clergy sexual abuse settlement to compensate the victim of a defrocked priest sentenced to prison earlier this year.
David Poulson, 65, was a priest in the Erie Diocese for over 40 years. He is currently serving a 2 ½ to 14-year prison sentence for the sexual assault of one boy, and the attempted sexual assault of another.
Poulson was among some 300 Roman Catholic clergy credibly accused of molesting over 1,0000 children throughout Pennsylvania since 1947, and one of few to actually face any jail time. Because Poulson committed his crimes between 2002 and 2010, the deadline for charging the former priest had yet to expire.
Poulson pleaded guilty last October, and subsequently received the maximum sentence possible in January. According to Pennsylvania General Robert Shapiro, officials in the Erie Diocese knew hew was a predator by 2010, but never reported his crimes to law enforcement officials.
“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,” Shapiro said after the sentence was announced.
He was defrocked by Pope Francis earlier this month.
The Erie Diocese apparently agreed to pay one of Poulson’s victims $2 million in February.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the clergy sexual abuse settlement is unusually high because the abuse occurred so recently. The statute of limitations on the victim’s civil claims had not yet run out, giving his attorney the option of heading to court if the diocese refused to meet their demands.
“This case is another example of why the statute of limitations have to be amended in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, so that victims can choose to file a lawsuit and obtain transparency,” the plaintiff’s lawyer said after the settlement was confirmed on Tuesday.
The Erie Diocese will apparently pay the clergy sexual abuse settlement out of reserves and investment income, rather than its recently-established victim compensation funds.
Pennsylvania currently allows child sexual abuse survivors to file civil lawsuits until they turn 30.
State lawmakers did agree last year to eliminate the statute of limitations for filing criminal charges, which currently expires when a survivor turns 50. They were also close to extending the deadline for civil claims by 20 years.
Unfortunately, the bill died after legislators were unable to agree on a one-time window that would have allowed survivors older than 50 to file otherwise time-barred claims.
Erie and several other Pennsylvania dioceses have launched victim compensation funds since the widespread scandal of clergy sexual abuse erupted last year. However, survivors and their advocates assert that the courts offer victims the chance to confront their abusers, as well as the opportunity for a larger payout more in line with the suffering they’ve been forced to endure.
Several states, including Delaware, California, Minnesota and Hawaii, have extended their statutes of limitations and opened similar windows over the years. In fact, such laws are one of the reasons Roman Catholic Diocese throughout the United States have been forced to pay over $3 billion in clergy sexual abuse settlements during the past 16 years.
New York became one of the latest states to do so in January, when lawmakers there finally passed the Child Victims Act. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill less than one month later, ending a 12-year battle with the Roman Catholic Church, its insurers, and other powerful interests wary that the law would unleash a wave of litigation that could force some New York dioceses into bankruptcy.