Northeast Times

Charges filed against former assistant pastor

Bren­nan

A 75-year-old Cath­ol­ic priest charged with mo­lest­ing a North­east boy more than a dec­ade ago is in cus­tody with bail set at $1 mil­lion.

The Rev. Robert L. Bren­nan, former as­sist­ant pas­tor of Re­sur­rec­tion of Our Lord par­ish in Rhawn­hurst, was ar­res­ted last week in Mary­land. He waived ex­tra­di­tion from that state, ac­cord­ing to the Dis­trict At­tor­ney’s Of­fice, and was brought back to Phil­adelphia Fri­day even­ing. Dis­trict At­tor­ney Seth Wil­li­ams on Sept. 26 said the priest re­peatedly mo­les­ted a par­ish al­tar boy from 1998 to 2001.

Ac­cord­ing to Com­mon Pleas Court’s on­line re­cords, Bren­nan is be­ing held in the Cur­ran-From­hold Cor­rec­tion­al Fa­cil­ity on State Road. His bail was set at $1 mil­lion on Fri­day. As of Monday morn­ing, he re­mained in cus­tody. Bren­nan’s pre­lim­in­ary hear­ing is sched­uled for 11 a.m. on Oct. 17 in Courtroom 806 of the Crim­in­al Justice Cen­ter, 13th and Fil­bert streets. 

Wil­li­ams said Bren­nan’s vic­tim was 11 and in the par­ish school’s sixth grade when the mo­lesta­tions star­ted, and Bren­nan was 60. The ab­use oc­curred in the North­east church’s sac­risty, Bren­nan’s rect­ory bed­room, a stor­age area on par­ish prop­erty and in a movie theat­er, the DA said.

The priest, who was prom­in­ently men­tioned in the 2005 Phil­adelphia Grand Jury re­port on sexu­al ab­use by Cath­ol­ic clergy, was ar­res­ted Sept. 25 in Perry­ville, Md., where he lives in a private res­id­ence.

Wil­li­ams said Bren­nan has been charged with rape, in­vol­un­tary de­vi­ate sexu­al in­ter­course and ag­grav­ated in­de­cent as­sault.

In a state­ment re­leased last week, the 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.

The vic­tim, now 26 and no longer a Phil­adelphia res­id­ent, re­por­ted his ab­use to the arch­diocese in Janu­ary, Wil­li­ams said. The arch­diocese im­me­di­ately — that day — turned over the in­form­a­tion to the DA’s of­fice.

Wil­li­ams praised the arch­diocese for act­ing so quickly and said the co­oper­a­tion his of­fice got from the Phil­adelphia church rep­res­en­ted a “sea change” in how such mat­ters had been handled.

But the dir­ect­or of an ab­use sur­viv­ors’ group scoffed at the DA’s char­ac­ter­iz­a­tion of the church’s at­ti­tude.

“The Phil­adelphia arch­diocese de­serves no kudos for re­port­ing this priest to law en­force­ment,” Dav­id Clo­hessy, dir­ect­or of the Sur­viv­ors Net­work of those Ab­used by Priests, said in a state­ment re­leased last week. “One in­cid­ent can­not be deemed some sort of ‘sea change’ in a long-stand­ing, deeply rooted cul­ture of secrecy, reck­less­ness, cal­lous­ness and de­ceit.”

Clo­hessy said he be­lieved church of­fi­cials re­por­ted Bren­nan to law en­force­ment au­thor­it­ies only be­cause they didn’t want to get in­to trouble with those same au­thor­it­ies.

“It’s self-in­terest, not re­form, that promp­ted this call,” he stated.

Wil­li­ams also praised the vic­tim for com­ing for­ward. 

“A seri­al ab­user is now be­hind bars be­cause of the brave ac­tions of this young man,” Wil­li­ams said.

The church has long been aware of al­leg­a­tions about Bren­nan’s con­duct, said a law­yer for two men who also say Bren­nan mo­les­ted them.

“The arch­diocese has known about this creep since 1988,” Daniel F. Mo­n­ahan, a Mal­vern at­tor­ney, said Sept. 26.

Ac­cord­ing to a chro­no­logy of Bren­nan’s ca­reer that Mo­n­ahan re­leased, the priest has been ac­cused of “in­ap­pro­pri­ate or sus­pi­cious be­ha­vi­or” with more than 20 boys.    

Mo­n­ahan and at­tor­ney Marci Hamilton have sev­er­al civil suits filed by cler­ic­al ab­use vic­tims pending against the arch­diocese. 

“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,” Hamilton stated in a Sept. 26 email to the North­east Times, “and that Monsignor Lynn knew this full well dur­ing his ten­ure and did noth­ing to pro­tect chil­dren.”

Lynn, who in­vest­ig­ated al­leg­a­tions against priests while the sec­ret­ary for the clergy un­der Car­din­al An­thony Bevilac­qua, was con­victed of one count of child en­dan­ger­ment in 2012 for not keep­ing a priest who was a child mo­lester away from chil­dren. His case cur­rently is un­der ap­peal.

Wil­li­ams said Lynn knew of Bren­nan, but can not be charged again with en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren in Bren­nan’s case be­cause the stat­ute of lim­it­a­tions on that of­fense has run out.

Ac­cord­ing to ma­ter­i­al re­leased last week by the dis­trict at­tor­ney, 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 DA said evid­ence of Bren­nan’s al­leged mis­con­duct dates to 1990 and 1991 when of­fi­cials of two Mont­gomery County Cath­ol­ic schools raised con­cerns about the priest’s al­legedly im­prop­er be­ha­vi­or with nu­mer­ous stu­dents.

Bren­nan was re­moved from St. Mary’s par­ish in Schwenks­ville, Mont­gomery County, “only after a moth­er of a sev­enth-grade al­tar boy com­plained that Bren­nan had touched her son in­ap­pro­pri­ately and forced him to sit on the priest’s lap,” ac­cord­ing to ma­ter­i­al from the DA’s of­fice.

The DA said Bren­nan was “merely re­cycled to an­oth­er as­sign­ment around un­sus­pect­ing chil­dren and par­ents.”

SNAP’s Clo­hessy, in his Sept. 26 state­ment, said Bren­nan was “treated” four times.

Lynn re­com­men­ded pla­cing Bren­nan in Re­sur­rec­tion par­ish, the DA said, even though the arch­diocese’s own hos­pit­al that eval­u­ates and treats priests ac­cused of sexu­al ab­use had warned that Bren­nan ex­hib­ited evid­ence of pe­do­phila and that he presen­ted fu­ture risk.

Wil­li­ams said Bish­op Ed­ward Cul­len told the first grand jury that looked in­to sexu­al ab­use by clergy that as­sign­ing Bren­nan to Re­sur­rec­tion and leav­ing him there without re­stric­tions en­dangered the par­ish’s chil­dren.

The dis­trict at­tor­ney said Bren­nan con­tin­ued to ex­hib­it sexu­ally ab­us­ive be­ha­vi­or at Re­sur­rec­tion, be­ha­vi­or that was re­por­ted by rect­ory staff, but that Bren­nan con­tin­ued to work at the par­ish. Lynn nev­er re­por­ted the al­leg­a­tions against Bren­nan to law en­force­ment, Wil­li­ams said. The DA said some of Bren­nan’s vic­tims test­i­fied be­fore the grand jury and de­scribed how the priest mo­les­ted them. No charges could be filed, Wil­li­ams said, be­cause the crimes fell out­side the stat­ute of lim­it­a­tions. 

In the case that promp­ted Bren­nan’s ar­rest, the priest al­legedly stuck his fin­gers in the boy’s anus when the child was in the sixth grade. Wil­li­ams said Bren­nan later forced the boy to per­form or­al sex on him. Only this sexu­al as­sault can be pro­sec­uted, Wil­li­ams said, be­cause the charges Bren­nan is fa­cing still are with­in the stat­ute of lim­it­a­tions.

Clo­hessy said any­one who suffered ab­use at the hands of Phil­adelphia’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic clergy should come for­ward as should any­one who saw it or sus­pec­ted it. The SNAP dir­ect­or said law­makers should “let more child sex-ab­use vic­tims ex­pose more child pred­at­ors and pro­tect more chil­dren by ad­opt­ing a civil ‘win­dow’ so that court­house doors are cracked open and child mo­lesters are put on tri­al where they should be.”

Clo­hessy said Charles Chaput, Phil­adelphia’s cur­rent Ro­man Cath­ol­ic arch­bish­op, should vis­it every place Bren­nan worked to beg vic­tims and wit­nesses to call po­lice and pro­sec­utors.

“Any­thing else,” he stated, “is just pub­lic re­la­tions.” ••

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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