Prosecutors dropped sex abuse charges against a Philadelphia priest on Wednesday, one week after his accuser died of a drug overdose.
Sean McIlmail, a former alter boy under Fr. Robert Brennan, came forward in January with allegations that the priest sexually abused him 15 years ago. McIlmail was found dead last week at age 26.
"Sean suffered in silence for over a decade," Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said on Wednesday. "Sean found his own way of self-medicating, which unfortunately led to his death."
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The district attorney said he dropped rape and sexual assault charges levied against the 75-year-old priest because there was no longer enough evidence -- direct or circumstantial -- to continue a trial.
"In many cases of sexual assault whether they be victims or adults or children, really the testimony of that victim is paramount to getting a conviction," he said.
Standing alongside McIlmail's family during the announcement, Williams called the man courageous and a voice for child sex abuse victims. Both the DA and McIlmail's family chose to release his name with the hope that other victims will come forward. It is NBC10's policy not to name victims of sexual abuse.
"It is my hope that other victims of child sexual abuse get the help that they need, the help that Sean did not get," Williams said. "Every victim doesn’t have to come forth in a public way."
One-in-six men and one-in-four women in the United States are sexually abused by the age of 18 and 90 percent of the child sex abusers are known to the child's family, according to Williams.
In a statement following the announcement, Fr. Brennan's attorney, Trevan Borum, said they are saddened and disappointed by the recent developments.
"Obviously, we are saddened someone is dead," he said. "We are disappointed Fr. Brennan didn't get to vindicate his name in court."
Fr. Brennan was arrested in Perryville, Md. on Sept. 25 and later charged with the rape of McIlmail. The priest, who was 60-years-old at the time and serving as assistant pastor of the Resurrection of Our Lord parish in the Rhawnhurst section of the city, allegedly assaulted the man for a period of three years starting when he was 11-years-old.
Williams said the assaults took place in the sacristy of the church, Fr. Brennan's bedroom, in the rectory, a storage area and off church property in a movie theater.
Fr. Brennan was also previously named in a 2005 grand jury report that investigated clergy abuse in Philadelphia. No charges were ever brought forth following that investigation however, because the statute of limitations for those alleged assaults had passed.
Following McIlmail's death, his attorney Marcie Hamilton called him a wonderful man.
"We have lost a wonderful man who overcame great odds and made it through college, battling his demons all the way -- demons that came into his life as he sought escape from the abuse he suffered at the hands of Fr. Brennan while he was an altar boy," Hamilton said.
Asked for comment on the dropping of charges, Kenneth Gavin, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said the church has nothing to say.
"The archdiocese was not paying for or organizing Fr. Robert Brennan’s defense and we won’t be commenting on the fact that the charges against him were dropped today," he said.
The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, an advocacy group for abuse victims, had more pointed words not only for Fr. Brennan, but also the archdiocese.
"This is dreadfully sad. A predator priest walks free and kids are at risk. Despite Fr. Robert Brennan’s age we still feel he is dangerous," David Clohessy, Director of SNAP.
"And it is clear what [Archbishop Charles Chaput] should do: personally visit each parish where Fr. Brennan (starting with the most recent one) and beg victims, witnesses and whistleblowers to call the police. It is also clear what everybody who saw suspected or suffered Fr. Brennan’s crimes should do: speak up now."