The Rev. James Brennan was a close family friend, a witness told the jury in the clerical sex abuse trial last week. But after years of good times together, the witness tearfully recalled “Jim” showing him pornographic Web sites and trying to molest him when he was 14.
“I loved him,” the witness said of his experiences with Brennan before he said the priest abused him. “He was like an uncle.”
The 30-year-old man who took the stand on April 4 was the first witness against Brennan, who is accused of attempted rape and conspiracy. Much of the trial’s previous six days had been focusing on how Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese — and Brennan’s co-defendant, Monsignor William Lynn — had handled allegations against other priests accused of being child molesters.
Questioned by Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti, the witness against Brennan told the court about the priest’s weekly visits to the family home while he was in grade school and how he was particularly close to the witness’s mother, who was a Eucharistic minister in their Bucks County parish.
He recounted how he had spent a lot of time with Brennan, almost always in the company of family members.
But then there was one night about a decade and a half ago that he stayed overnight in Brennan’s West Chester apartment. The two planned to play an early round of golf the next day. The witness said he was alone with the priest when Brennan invited him to look at sex chat rooms on the Internet, wanted him to masturbate with him and finally got into bed with him.
Both remained clothed in underwear, the witness said, but he described Brennan “spooning” with him and pulling him close. The witness said he prayed to fall asleep and eventually did. He said as far as he could recall, no sexual penetration occurred. He said the next thing he could recall was being at a Shore resort the next day, telling his mother what had happened. He said he had no memory of how he had gotten to the Shore.
Defense attorney William Brennan zeroed in on the holes in the witness’s memory, even asking him if he knew what the current month was.
“May,” the witness said.
The witness had recounted a life subsequently filled with drug and alcohol abuse, mental health problems, suicide attempts and crimes like forgery and making a false report to police. Attorney Brennan, who is not related to his client, asked the witness if it wasn’t true that he had earlier had some school problems. The witness, who earlier had said he had gotten good grades in school, said he had been depressed and had acted out a bit.
The witness, an ex-Marine, said he only recently had completed a mental health program in Eagleville, Montgomery County, and had trouble recalling where or when he had met with prosecutors.
In his opening statements on March 26, William Brennan had attacked the credibility of the witness. He told jurors the witness was a criminal, and stressed that he had been convicted of making a false report about an offense that did not occur.
On April 4, the witness said that his contact with Father Brennan dropped off after the West Chester incident and after his parents had discussed it with the clergyman. However, he said, he had been required years later to do community service as part of his punishment for theft and he did that at Brennan’s parish.
He said he thought he could have an easy time of it because he knew Brennan. At one point, he saw the priest in a shed in a state of undress. He said the priest invited him in, but he left, and said he never saw the priest again until his testimony began last Wednesday.
Attorney Brennan questioned the witness about his past and about his attempts to get money from the archdiocese until the witness asked Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina if he would stop for the day. She agreed, and the witness took the stand again on Thursday, philly.com reported.
When the witness took the stand again Thursday, attorney Brennan continued to question the man’s credibility and reasons for accusing his client.
The Associated Press reported that the lawyer said the witness’ parents had remained friends with Father Brennan for years after the West Chester incident allegedly occurred and that the witness had not told them about it because it never happened.
The witness exploded, AP reported, telling the attorney he should be ashamed of himself.
Brennan’s co-defendant William Lynn is not accused of molesting children. However, he is charged with endangering children. He is the first member of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in America to face that charge in relation to a child molestation case, prosecutors said after Lynn’s February 2011 arrest.
Prosecutors said Lynn endangered children because he allowed Brennan and former co-defendant Edward Avery to continue in ministries in which they could have contact with children even though he had knowledge of allegations against them.
Testimony and lengthy reviews of documents in the first six days of the trial showed Lynn, in his 14-year role as secretary for clergy, investigated molestation allegations against archdiocesan priests, sent those priests to treatment and recommended their assignments.
Hundreds of memos, letters and reports were reviewed in the opening days of what is expected to be a very long trial.
The trial originally was to have five defendants — Brennan, Lynn, Avery, the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and former lay teacher Bernard Shero. All were arrested in February 2011 after a grand jury released a report on sexual abuse by the city’s Roman Catholic clergy.
That grand jury began its investigations after the archdiocese reported both Avery and Engelhardt to authorities. Grand jurors alleged the same St. Jerome pupil was molested first by Engelhardt, then by Avery and finally by Shero, who taught at the parish school.
During their investigation, grand jurors began looking into allegations against Brennan. Finally, they charged that Lynn was responsible for acts committed by Avery and Brennan in that minors were molested after the monsignor knew about charges against the two priests.
Attorneys for Engelhardt and Shero successfully argued to have their clients face trial separate from Lynn. They will be tried in early September. Avery pleaded guilty to conspiracy and molestation charges days before the trial began March 26. He was sentenced to two and a half to five years in prison.
The trial continues in Courtroom 304 of the Criminal Justice Center, at 13th and Filbert streets. ••EndFragment