Victim of Pennsylvania clergy abuse recalls being groomed by priest
Jim VanSickle will keep telling his harrowing tale of survival as long as it keeps the spotlight on sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
He is committed to creating a community where other survivors can come forward and share their stories too.
VanSickle, who attended the Bradford Central Christian High School in Bradford, Penn., was a “lost” 16-year-old when he met his English teacher, a priest named David Poulson in 1979, the Washington Post reported.
His grandmother had died and his father was too sick to work, according to the report.
And so he turned to Poulson, 10 years his senior, for guidance.
The pair formed a powerful bond that VanSickle credits with helping him graduate from high school and college.
“He turned my life around,” VanSickle told the Washington Post. “He was my spiritual leader. He was my friend.”
But VanSickle, now 55, also accuses Poulson of abusing him, both physically and emotionally.
Poulson was among more than 300 Roman Catholic priests named in a grand jury report released Tuesday that details the scope of sexual abuse and its cover up within the church over the course of 70 years.
Poulson was charged with abusing two boys between 2002 and 2010, and has not yet entered a plea. VanSickle, who is too old to join the case, testified about his alleged abuse by Poulson.
The Pittsburgh-based tutor and life coach said the “war” against Catholic leaders is “just beginning,” the New York Times reported.
He has pledged to track down priests’ victims to hold their abusers accountable.
Van Sickle was made captain of the chess team under Poulson’s tutelage. Chess team meals evolved into one-on-one meetings between the mentor and mentee.
VanSickle recalls Poulson placing his hand on his leg in a car on the way to the movies, he told the Times.
The priest then started providing VanSickle with alcohol. He tickled and wrestled with him.
“He constantly wanted physical contact,” VanSickle told the Times.
He recounted a startling incident that took place on a trip to Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Ohio.
VanSickle recalled the startling moment when while in their hotel room, “He jumps me, and I realize that he was aroused in his clothing.”
VanSickle alleges his teacher attacked him, but he was able to fend him off. He said the incident was never spoken of.
“We drove for seven hours and didn’t talk except for him stopping to get a six pack and handing it to me,” he remembered in an interview with the Times. “He never apologized and we never discussed it.”
VanSickle acknowledges the complexity of his relationship with his abuser.
He also recognizes how effective Poulson was at manipulating him.
“He gave me somebody to be able to confide in, which makes the whole thing so confusing to me,” VanSickle told the Times. “Seeing him in shackles and an orange jumpsuit, people ask me, ‘Why don’t you hate him? Why don’t you want to hurt him?’ Well, I do. But at the same time, I have some really strong conflicting feelings. It’s not hard to love the man that he was before he did what he did.”