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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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