The witness against a 75-year-old Roman Catholic priest accused of molesting a Northeast altar boy died suddenly, the district attorney’s office announced this afternoon.
The 26-year-old man, who in January had accused the Rev. Robert Brennan of sexually abusing him from 1998 to 2001, was found dead this weekend by Philadelphia police detectives, according to a DA’s office news release. The man, whose name has not been released, died of an accidental drug overdose, according to Marci A. Hamilton, one of his attorneys.
“It is with great sadness that I have to announce that the victim in the rape and assault case against Robert Brennan passed away unexpectedly,” stated District Attorney Seth Williams. “The decades-long demons and scars the victim in this case endured ended this weekend when he was found dead by Philadelphia Police Detectives. I can not say enough about the bravery this young man displayed in coming forward to bring these crimes to light. This young man’s courage should serve as an inspiration to us all.”
Tasha Jamerson, the DA’s spokeswoman, said the office was not releasing the man’s name, where he was found and any other details of his death.
The district attorney’s office is reviewing the case against Brennan and will make a decision on the prosecution sometime next week.
Brennan, who had served as assistant pastor of Resurrection of Our Lord parish in Rhawnhurst, was arrested on Sept. 25 in Maryland and brought back to Philadelphia two days later. He was charged with repeatedly molesting a parish altar boy from 1998 to 2001. The archdiocese, which asked the Vatican to laicize the priest, immediately reported the allegations to authorities, Williams said Sept. 26.
Brennan’s attorney, Trevan Borum, said today he doesn’t know yet how the case would proceed because he has yet to see any evidence against his client. He said doesn’t get any evidence until after a preliminary hearing. Brennan had been scheduled for that hearing today, but it was continued to Nov. 14.
“This brave man courageously exposed a child-molesting cleric and protected others. He fought hard to get his day in court,” Karen Polesir, of the Philadelphia chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said of the deceased witness. “Now, that day will never come. We are deeply grateful for his bravery and deeply saddened for his friends and family. Now more than ever, it’s crucial that every victim, witness and whistleblower come forward and work with law enforcement. Children are safe when predators are behind bars.
“He was a wonderful young man who had gotten his life together to pursue justice,” said Hamilton, one of his attorneys. “I thought he would change the world with his bravery.”
Williams said the boy reported Brennan began molesting him when he was 11 and in the sixth grade. The sexual abuse allegedly continued in the Castor and Shelmire church’s sacristy, Brennan’s rectory bedroom, a parish storage area and in a theater and didn’t end until the boy was 14, Williams said.
Brennan was held in Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility on State Road from Sept. 27 with bail set at $1 million until that bail was slashed to $50,000 by Judge Paula Patrick on Oct. 8. Assistant District Attorney Evangelia Manos had described Brennan as a flight risk. Although Patrick reduced the priest’s bail, she ordered him to surrender his passport.
Brennan has been charged with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and aggravated indecent assault.
The priest, who was prominently mentioned in the 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury report on sexual abuse by Philadelphia’s Catholic clergy, had been living in a private home in Perryville, Md., when he was arrested.
In a statement released Sept. 25, the Philadelphia archdiocese said Brennan, who was ordained in 1964, was removed from active ministry in September 2005 after the grand jury report was issued.
“He has not been permitted to function as a priest anywhere since that time. A canonical process aimed at his laicization is in progress with the Holy See,” the archdiocese stated. The archdiocese said the alleged “wrongful conduct” occurred more than a dozen years before Brennan was removed from ministry.
According to archdiocesan spokesman Ken Gavin, the archdiocese has no control over the length of the process to laicize Brennan. Since that has not concluded, Brennan technically remains a priest, and the archdiocese is required under church law to provide him with pension benefits. However, Gavin said the archdiocese is not involved in and won’t be paying for Brennan’s defense.
The church was aware of Brennan and claims about his conduct long before that, said Daniel F. Monahan, a Malvern attorney who represents two men who also say Brennan molested them.
According to a chronology of Brennan’s career that Monahan released yesterday, the priest has been accused of “inappropriate or suspicious behavior” with more than 20 boys.
“The Philadelphia Grand Jury Reports [in 2005 and 2011) and the trial of Monsignor William Lynn revealed that the archdiocese was aware of Brennan’s predatory behavior as early as 1988,” attorney Marci Hamilton stated in a Sept. 26 email to the Northeast Times.
According to material the district attorney released in late September, the archdiocese years ago had been notified that Brennan had inappropriately touched several boys, many from parishes to which he had been assigned. Most of the complaints the archdiocese had received, the DA said, were based on observations of archdiocesan employees — “fellow priests, principals and rectory workers.”
Williams said the archdiocesan supervisors “ignored these reports for over a decade.”
The district attorney said Brennan was “merely recycled to another assignment around unsuspecting children and parents.” ••
John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org