Local/State

Former Philadelphia priest sexually abused altar boy, DA says

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A former Philadelphia priest named in more than 20 abuse complaints during a long church career has been criminally charged for the first time after a new accuser came forward within the new time limit.

The Rev. Robert L. Brennan, 75, was arrested on rape charges in Perryville, Md., where he's been living since he was suspended after being named in a 2005 grand jury report on sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He is now charged with sexually abusing an altar boy from 1998 to 2001 in northeast Philadelphia.

Earlier complaints against Brennan were long buried in a locked vault at the archdiocese, according to documents unearthed in a landmark church-abuse trial last year. But Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said the archdiocese - after the conviction of a church official over his handling of complaints - did the right thing when Brennan's latest accuser contacted them in January.

"This shows the sea change, I believe, in the manner in which the archdiocese under (Archbishop Charles) Chaput is handling" complaints, Williams said.

Brennan was expected to be sent to Pennsylvania to be arraigned. It was not immediately clear if he has a lawyer.

He is charged with abusing the altar boy in the church sacristy, in his rectory bedroom, in a storage area and at a movie theater. Brennan had been transferred to Resurrection of Our Lord parish despite complaints dating back to at least 1990 - from school administrators, a parent and other adults - of improper wrestling, touching and other inappropriate behavior around boys.

"If the archdiocese would have been forthcoming from the start, he would have long been behind bars, and these kids would not have been hurt, certainly not this one," said St. Paul, Minn., lawyer Jeff Anderson, who represents the accuser and other clergy-abuse victims, including two with civil suits pending against Brennan.

The watershed 2005 grand jury report devoted a lengthy section to Brennan, saying the archdiocese under the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua reassigned him from parish to parish, even after sending him for psychiatric treatment or counseling four times. But prosecutors then deemed it too late to pursue criminal charges.

Laws adopted in many states since then give accusers more time to come forward. Anderson's client said Brennan started abusing him when he was 11.

Williams, the district attorney, told reporters Thursday that he would have also charged imprisoned Monsignor William Lynn with child endangerment for allegedly covering up the earlier complaints against Brennan, but the statute for that charge had run out.

The 62-year-old Lynn, the longtime secretary for clergy, is serving a three- to six-year term for endangering another child, while appealing his conviction. An appellate court heard defense arguments last week that Lynn was charged retroactively, under a law adopted after he left his post.

"I think Williams is all wet," said Lynn's lawyer, Thomas Bergstrom. "If we're correct with the issue that's before the Superior Court right now, Williams couldn't have charged Lynn at all."

Meanwhile, another suspended priest who went on trial with Lynn is scheduled for an October retrial. The jury had deadlocked on attempted rape and child endangerment charges against the Rev. James Brennan, 50, who is not related to Robert L. Brennan.

A statement from the Philadelphia Archdiocese says in part: "Since arriving in Philadelphia, Archbishop Chaput has reinforced the archdiocese's strong commitment to work with law enforcement in ensuring justice for victims of sexual assault."

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