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.” ••