Philly Priest Sexually Abused Altar Boy for Years: DA

Alleged abuse happened inside church, in the rectory and at a movie theater

A Philadelphia priest, previously accused of sexually abusing 20 boys, is now criminally charged with allegedly sexually assaulting an altar boy over a three-year period.

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced the arrest Thursday morning of Rev. Robert L. Brennan.

"A serial predator is now behind bars thanks to brave actions of this young man," Williams said.

Brennan is accused of sexually assaulting the altar boy from 1998 to 2001 when the child was between 11 and 14 years old, according to authorities.

Williams described in graphic detail how Brennan, who was 60 when the alleged attacks started, began sexually assaulting the boy when the victim was in the 6th grade.

The alleged assaults happened inside the church as well as off church grounds while Brennan was an assistant pastor at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in the Rhawnhurst section of Northeast Philadelphia.

"The assaults took place in the sacristy of the church, in Rev. Brennan's bedroom, in the rectory, in a storage area on parish property and in a movie theater," said Williams.

Brennan, now 75, is charged with rape, involuntary deviant sexual intercourse and aggravated sexual assault. Previous allegations of abuse by Brennan, detailed in a grand jury report, did not result in charges because the alleged assaults fell outside the state's statute of limitations. 

He was arrested Wednesday afternoon in Perryville, Md. and was returned to Philadelphia on Thursday evening after waiving extradition. He is expected o be arraigned on the charges Friday afternoon.

Williams described the investigation into the abuse as a "sea change" for the archdiocese and complemented Archbishop Charles Chaput and the church for its swift action in bringing the allegations to prosecutors.

"The victim reported Brennan’s abuse to the archdiocese in January of 2013 and the archdiocese then immediately -- and by that immediately I mean the same day -- contacted the district attorney’s office," he said.

Williams said he spoke with Chaput Thursday and thanked him for the internal changes in the local church.

The Archdiocese had a history of moving pedophile priests from parish to parish rather than report their crimes or banish them from the church. Williams said Brennan was one of the priests who was, for years, protected rather than punished.

"The case of (Brennan) is another example of how the Monsignor William Lynn shielded predator priests from exposure and prosecution, which led to the victimization of countless Philadelphia children," Williams said.

Brennan's duties within the church were severely restricted after a 2005 grand jury report on sexual abuse in the Philadelphia church found that during Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua's tenure that Brennan had sexually or inappropriately touched more than 20 boys; many from the schools or parishes where Brennan worked.

"Because of William Lynn and others in the archdiocese, Brennan, until today, escaped prosecution for his decades long sexual abuse of boys whom he encountered as a priest," Williams said.

According to a grand jury report which revealed accusations of sexual wrongdoing against dozens of priests, the archdiocese reassigned Brennan from parish to parish without warning his supervisors, even after sending him for psychiatric treatment or counseling four times.

Williams said it was documented that church officials ignored reports from St. Pius X Catholic High School and at St. Mary's Parish school in Schwenksville, Pa. in 1990 and 1991 that Brennan was being inappropriate with numerous students. Only the complaint for a mother in 1992 that Brennan touched a seventh grader inappropriately at St. Mary's.

"After Brennan was removed from St. Mary's, Msg. Lynn, who served as Bevilacqua's secretary of clergy from 1992 to 2004, it was only then that it was recommended in December of 1993 that the accused priest be reassigned to Resurrection of Our Lord Parish."

Lynn's action came despite doctor warnings that Brennan "showed evidence of pedophilia," Williams said. 

"Brennan continued to exhibit at Resurrection of Our Lord the same sexually abusive behavior toward adolescent boys that principals at St. Mary's and St. Pius X had reported," Williams said.

More reports came in from rectory staff of Brennan's alleged abuse but Williams said Lynn continued to keep Brennan as assistant pastor.

"In that capacity he met, supervised and abused the victim that has no come forward," Williams said.

Various men have testified that they were abused by Brennan but because of the alleged offenses falling outside of Pennsylvania's statute of limitations nothing could be done until now, Williams said. One man even sued the church a few years back claiming he was abused at Resurrection of Our Lord from 1993 to 1994.

According to Williams, Lynn, and others in the church couldn't be prosecuted in this case because  the victim's current age doesn't allow prosecutors to charge Lynn with child endangerment. Lynn, however, did go to prison after being tried on conspiracy charges for protecting other pedophile priests.

The Philadelphia chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests disagreed with Williams' assessment of changes in Chaput's administration.

"The Philadelphia Archdiocese deserves no kudos for reporting this priest to law enforcement. And one incident cannot be deemed some sort of 'sea change' in a long-standing, deeply-rooted culture of secrecy, recklessness, callousness and deceit," said SNAP spokesman David Clohessy.

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