CINCINNATI – Crying on the witness stand, a mother said she pleaded with her 10-year-old son to go on an overnight trip with a priest who had given their struggling family $800.
The woman testified that her son at first refused to go with Rev. Robert Poandl, but she persisted.
"Father Bob has been so good to us,” she recalled telling her son during the priest’s sexual abuse trial in federal court Tuesday.
Poandl, of Fairfield-based Glenmary Home Missioners, is accused of sexually assaulting the boy on that trip to a West Virginia church in 1991.
The accuser's fiancée also testified Tuesday and said the attack led to their temporary breakup. The alleged victim is scheduled to testify Wednesday.
The mother testified that her husband had lost his job in 1990 and they were having financial trouble with only his pension and her babysitting money to support four kids in Catholic school. She said she taught her kids to respect and obey priests, as she had been taught.
Poandl knew of their money problems, she said, because she and her husband had led marriage encounter weekends with Poandl since 1988 and had often talked about family matters with him.
She said “Father Bob” came to their Price Hill house to do pre-planning for weekends, then he started "popping over" for dinner – once a week or every other week.
One night in the summer of 1991, he showed up for dinner with $800 in a white envelope. The mother said she asked Poandl what she could do for him. Poandl told her to pray for another priest, she said.
A week later, she testified, Poandl showed up at their home on a Saturday afternoon and asked if one of her sons could come with him to West Virginia so he could cover Mass for another priest.
Poandl said it was a five-hour drive, he was tired, and he needed someone to talk to and keep him awake, she testified.
She said two of her sons – ages 14 and 10 – were home at the time. She said she knew not to ask the older boy because he was obstinate and bull-headed. So she asked the 10-year-old.
"He always had a kind heart," the mother testified about her son, who is 32 now. "He was the compliant one. He did as he was told."
After she pleaded and he agreed to go, she packed his bag and walked with them to Poandl’s car, she said.
She said neither Poandl nor the boy called them that night, but she didn't expect a call.
When her son came home the next day, "he didn't look well," she testified. He was pale and hung back.
When she asked what was wrong, her son said his stomach hurt. He told her Poandl gave him cornflakes with lemonade.
She said she asked the boy if he slept well and he said no.
Then the boy asked her if he ever had go with "Father Bob" again.
She testified that she said no.
At that point, Poandl came into the kitchen and she asked him:
What did you talk about on the trip?
"Corporal punishment," she said he replied.
At that, the boy ran upstairs, she said.
At one point in her testimony, the mother glared at Poandl and got visibly angry.
Prosecutor: “Did he stay for dinner that night?”
Prosecutor: "Did he ever turn down dinner before?”
The mother paused, then said strongly, “No.”
After turning her head and glaring at Poandl, she faced the prosecutor and jury again and shook her head.
One week after the West Virginia trip, Poandl stopped at their house and said he wasn’t going to come by anymore, because he could tell none of her boys were going to become priests, the mother testified.
She didn’t see him again until 2006 at a dance, she said.
The West Virginia trip changed her son, the mother said. He had been gregarious, a talker, funny, but not anymore.
He switched friends and was afraid to go outside, even to take out the garbage.
“He fought us tooth and nail" about going to church, she said.
Poandl, 71, faces one count of transportation of a minor across state lines for illicit purposes. Prosecutors said he took the boy to Spencer, W.Va., and sexually assaulted him in a church rectory.
Poandl has pleaded not guilty.
The accuser's fiancée testified that the couple broke up in 2009 after she told him she wanted to raise their children Catholic and get married in a Catholic church.
He had never spoken to her about the alleged attack. He became quiet and told her to talk to his parents, she said.
They got back together and plan to get married next June, she said.
Federal prosecutors charged Poandl after a West Virginia state court dismissed sex and assault charges against him in the case in 2010.
In trial motions, the government sought to portray Poandl as a repeat child molester and to bar the defense from introducing the West Virginia proceedings at the trial.
The government accuses Poandl of molesting two other boys under “remarkably similar” circumstances in May 1981 - 10 years before the alleged attack in West Virginia – and May 1984. The government says:
➢ All three boys were about 10 years old;
➢ Poandl had met their parents through Worldwide Marriage Encounter. The WME website identifies it as a Catholic faith-based program designed to bring husbands and wives closer together.
➢ Poandl had asked the parents’ permission for their sons to spend the night with him.
➢ Poandl allegedly molested them in a rectory or a church.
In addition, it says two of the alleged attacks happened while the boy was in bed asleep, and the other happened when the boy was in a bathtub.
Poandl faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Glenmary Home Missioners is a religious order that serves rural communities and is not affiliated with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, according to Glenmary communications director Jean Bach.
In February 2012, Poandl was accused of sexual misconduct and was relieved of his ministerial duties, Bach said. The alleged incident took place nearly 30 years earlier when the victim was a minor, Bach said.
After that accusation, Poandl lived under a safety plan at Glenmary's Fairfield residence and was not allowed to function as a priest or wear the white collar, Bach said.
Poandl was indicted in the West Virginia case 10 months later in November 2012. He was put under house arrest and required to wear an ankle bracelet, which the court monitors, Bach said.
Poandl is prohibited from leaving the Glenmary residence except for legal or medical appointments, Bach said. He is always accompanied by at least one Glenmarian when he leaves the residence, she said.
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