DA drops sex-abuse case against priest

The witness against the Rev. Robert Brennan died earlier this month

  • Robert Brennan

  • Sean McIlmail died of an accidental drug overdose in Kensington earlier this month.

Phil­adelphia’s dis­trict at­tor­ney has de­cided to with­draw charges against the Rev. Robert Bren­nan al­most two weeks after the death of the young man who ac­cused him of mo­lest­ing him in a North­east par­ish more than a dec­ade ago.

In a mid­after­noon news con­fer­ence today, Dis­trict At­tor­ney Seth Wil­li­ams an­nounced his of­fice will with­draw charges against the 75-year-old former as­sist­ant pas­tor of Re­sur­rec­tion of Our Lord Ro­man Cath­ol­ic Church dur­ing the priest’s Nov. 14 pre­lim­in­ary hear­ing.

In Janu­ary, Sean McIl­mail, 26, brought his ac­cus­a­tions to the city’s arch­diocese that Bren­nan re­peatedly mo­les­ted him from the time he was 11 years old un­til he was 14, Wil­li­ams said Sept. 26. He ad­ded the Church im­me­di­ately re­por­ted the al­leg­a­tions to au­thor­it­ies. Bren­nan was ar­res­ted in Perry­ville, Md., Sept. 25 after McIl­mail agreed to press charges against him.

Wil­li­ams de­lib­er­ately re­peated what he had said when his of­fice an­nounced McIl­mail’s death last week.

“The dec­ades long demons and scars that Sean en­dured ended when he was found dead by Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­tect­ives. I can not say enough about the bravery Sean dis­played in com­ing for­ward to bring these crimes to light. His cour­age should serve as an in­spir­a­tion to us all.”

McIl­mail, who lived in Mont­gomery County, was found dead of an ac­ci­dent­al drug over­dose in a car in Kens­ing­ton on Oct. 12. In late Septem­ber, Wil­li­ams had said Bren­nan had sexu­ally ab­used McIl­mail in the Rhawn­hurst par­ish from 1998 to 2001.

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.

The priest had been charged with rape, in­vol­un­tary de­vi­ate sexu­al in­ter­course and ag­grav­ated in­de­cent as­sault. Bren­nan’s at­tor­ney, Tre­ven Bor­um, said his cli­ent was in­no­cent of the charges.

“He is ob­vi­ously very sad that some­body died,” Bor­um said of his cli­ent this af­ter­noon. “But he is dis­ap­poin­ted he did not get a chance to vin­dic­ate his name after a full tri­al with all of the evid­ence com­ing to light.”

McIl­mail’s at­tor­ney, Marci Hamilton, said she wasn’t sur­prised the DA de­cided not to pur­sue its case against Bren­nan. “The case had not pro­gressed far enough that it could pro­ceed without Sean,” she said this af­ter­noon.

She said her cli­ent had battled drug ad­dic­tion since he was 18 and really was try­ing to get his life to­geth­er. He really wanted to get justice from Bren­nan, she said.

Al­leg­a­tions against the priest were prom­in­ently men­tioned in the 2005 Phil­ad­elphia Grand Jury re­port on sexu­al ab­use by Phil­adelphia’s Cath­ol­ic clergy, and he was soon after re­moved from act­ive min­istry by the arch­diocese.

“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.

“This is dread­fully sad,” Dav­id Clo­hessy, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Sur­viv­ors Net­work of those Ab­used by Priests, said of the DA’s de­cision. “A pred­at­or priest walks free and kids are at risk. Des­pite Fath­er Robert Bren­nan’s age, we still feel he is dan­ger­ous.”

In a state­ment emailed to me­dia out­lets this af­ter­noon, Clo­hessy said the city’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic arch­bish­op, Charles Chaput, should per­son­ally vis­it where Bren­nan was sta­tioned and “beg vic­tims, wit­nesses and whis­tleblowers to call po­lice.” ••

Were you ab­used?

The Dis­trict At­tor­ney has a spe­cial phone line and email ad­dress for all vic­tims of sexu­al ab­use and/or as­sault. If you are a vic­tim, you should con­tact au­thor­it­ies im­me­di­ately.

The phone num­ber at the DA’s Of­fice is 215-686-8019, and the email is da.vic­tim­ser­vices@phila.gov

There are also oth­er agen­cies in the city that vic­tims can call:

The Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment   215-686-TIPS

De­part­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices     215-683-4347

Phil­adelphia Chil­dren’s Al­li­ance     1-800-932-0313

Wo­men Or­gan­ized Against Rape     215-985-3333

Con­greso De Lati­nos Unidos     215-763-8870

Chil­dren’s Crisis Treat­ment Cen­ter   215-496-0707

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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