DA drops molestation charges against priest

A former North­east as­sist­ant par­ish pas­tor won’t be tried on charges he mo­les­ted a young al­tar boy more than a dec­ade ago.

Dur­ing a mid-Novem­ber pre­lim­in­ary hear­ing, the dis­trict at­tor­ney’s of­fice will with­draw charges against the Rev. Robert Bren­nan. That Nov. 14 hear­ing will be a form­al­ity. On Oct. 23, Dis­trict At­tor­ney Seth Wil­li­ams an­nounced his de­cision not to pur­sue the case against the 75-year-old priest. The reas­on was simple — Sean McIl­mail, 26, the main wit­ness against the former as­sist­ant pas­tor of Re­sur­rec­tion of Our Lord par­ish in Rhawn­hurst — died of an ac­ci­dent­al drug over­dose earli­er this month.

Al­though the crim­in­al case is go­ing away, Bren­nan still might have fur­ther leg­al troubles if McIl­mail’s fam­ily de­cides to sue him. And, the Vat­ic­an is con­sid­er­ing boot­ing him out of the priest­hood. Bren­nan has not been al­lowed an act­ive min­istry for years, but his “la­iciz­a­tion” would mean a loss of his pen­sion, ac­cord­ing to a spokes­man for Phil­adelphia’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic arch­diocese.

In Janu­ary, McIl­mail brought his ac­cus­a­tions to the city’s Ro­man Cath­ol­ic arch­diocese that Bren­nan re­peatedly mo­les­ted him start­ing when he was 11 years old, 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.

McIl­mail, who lived in Mont­gomery County, was found dead of an ac­ci­dent­al drug over­dose 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 in an Oct. 23 phone in­ter­view. “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.

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.

“As we have main­tained since Fath­er Bren­nan’s ar­rest, the al­leg­a­tions brought against him are not true,” Bor­um stated on Oct. 17, after the dis­trict at­tor­ney an­nounced its main wit­ness against the priest had died. “They came 13 years after they al­legedly oc­curred and, at the time these al­leged in­cid­ents were re­por­ted, the ac­cuser had already hired an at­tor­ney to sue the arch­diocese at the con­clu­sion of the crim­in­al case.”

Oth­er al­leg­a­tions against Bren­nan were prom-in-ently men-tioned 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 la­iciz­tion is in pro­gress with the Holy See,” the arch-dio­cese stated, adding it was ob­liged to make pen­sion pay­ments to Bren­nan be­cause he is a priest un­til the Vat­ic­an says he isn’t. A spokes­man had said the arch­diocese was not in­volved in Bren­nan’s de­fense. ••

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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