Area Catholics React to Sex Abuse Scandal Amid Release of Disturbing Grand Jury Report

| August 20, 2018

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – In the wake of the recent release of the findings of a statewide investigative grand jury on abuse of children by priests, local parishioners are expressing both sorrow and anger.

Heather Reiner, a member of Immaculate Conception Parish in Clarion for the last decade, said she was extremely “sad and angry” when she heard some of the details of the report.

“It’s despicable when anyone uses their position to prey on children,” said Reiner. “Anyone involved in the cover-ups should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. They are just as guilty as the offenders.”

Sandi Anderson, who has been a member of St. Charles Parish in New Bethlehem since 1964, noted that her sons had been at the age to be potential victims during the time that Fr. Donald Cooper, one of the priests named in the grand jury presentment, was at St. Charles.

“We had heard rumors, and I decided not to act on the rumors. There were allegations and one of the commandments is ‘Thou shall not bear false witness’ so I did not confront the rumors. But when he was formally charged…my reaction was still rage and regret that I did not at least confront my own children,” Anderson said.

“I suffered a lot of rage, and I’m in counseling and the counselor suggested I find a safe person, also Catholic, to work through this. I was able to work through that by engaging in a venting with what I considered a safe person.”

“I think a lot of people are suffering from personal rage,” Anderson continued. “I think the church needs to have some kind of a similar forum where you’d be able to express that and move through it. We’re called to forgiveness and to love one another, but still, you need to release that somehow, to not just carry that with you.”

Another local woman, Janine Frazier – a member of St. Michael Parish in Fryburg for about twenty years – remembered how Fr. David Poulson, who was named in the grand jury, encouraged her sons along with many others young people in the parish, to become altar servers.

Poulson, a priest in the Erie diocese for four decades until earlier this year, was charged earlier this year with indecent assault, endangering the welfare of children and corruption of minors. The grand jury found that Poulson sexually assaulted at least two young boys while employed in active ministry.

Poulson served as a priest at St. Michael’s Church in Fryburg, Clarion County, for several years between 2000 and 2010.

“I was shocked, mostly. I never expected him to be involved in any way,” Frazier said. “I am so glad the boys refused.”

That same anger and shock seemed to echo throughout the area as many other parishioners displayed similar sentiments.

“I’ve always had a positive experience with my faith and the priests and lay people I’ve come in contact with. However, I really felt angry and betrayed when the grand jury report was released,” said Jason Kosmiski, a parishioner at St. Joseph’s and a lifelong Catholic who attended Catholic grade school, high school, and a Catholic college. “There were names of men I trusted, that lived in my hometown, one was part of my college and the connected seminary.”

“I have strong feelings about the issue because I work with young people. I’ve made it my life’s work to help young people, to lift them up, to help them create better lives for themselves. And what these men did, the abusers and the men who covered this up and allowed them to abuse again with impunity, they represent the polar opposite of what I’ve decided to do with my life. They represent everything that I oppose. They damage and destroy,” Kosmiski continued.

“That’s what I’m so angry about this report. I feel like the church needs to be held accountable. I agree that the law needs to be changed to eliminate the statute of limitations so that these evil men can be legally held accountable for their evil actions. They need to be stripped of their positions in the church and, if found guilty of wrongdoing, imprisoned. And not just these priests, but the Bishops, Cardinals and other church hierarchy who enabled them and covered for them.”

Although upset by the stark revelations of the grand jury investigation, many local parishioners said they have not lost faith in the church.

“I love my faith. This is not just a Catholic Church issue. It sadly happens in all religions, and of course in so many different secular settings,” Reiner said. “What needs to be noted is a pedophile becomes a Priest, it’s not the other way around. It’s the same with any profession. They put themselves in positions where they are working with children so they can have easy access to victims. It’s the same with teachers, coaches, doctors, etc.”

“I did not become Catholic until 2008. Since then I have only seen stringent requirements in place to protect children. To volunteer in any capacity you have to have clearances and a criminal history background check, plus attend a meeting on being a mandated reporter. It truly has changed.”

Frazier has a similar outlook.

“I believe in the Catholic religion, but don’t quite know how this is all going to be when it is over, but there are many good priests who will help everyone through this,” Frazier said.

Most parishioners agree that the Catholic Church needs to be eradicated of those involved.

“I think God’s plan includes, for lack of a better word, draining the swamp. I think there’s going to be a really massive opening up, draining the swamp,” Anderson said. “There’s always good that comes from bad, and this grand jury investigation I hope is good and pure and true.”

“When it comes to the lives that have been destroyed, who suffer PTSD, we really have to pray for those people, love those people, and hope that they can find it in their soul to get healthy.”

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