D.A. Arrests Another Priest, but Declines to Re-arrest Msgr. Lynn

By Ralph Cipriano
Big Trial
September 27, 2013

District Attorney Seth Williams announced the arrest this morning of another Roman Catholic priest, charging Father Robert L. Brennan with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and aggravated indecent assault.

Father Brennan, 75, a known abuser with 20 previous alleged victims, was charged with sexually assaulting an altar boy between 1998 and 2001, when the latest victim was between 11 and 14 years old. The altar boy was allegedly assaulted at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, where Father Brennan served as assistant pastor. The crimes, according to the D.A., supposedly took place in the church sacristy, the priest's bedroom in the church rectory, a storage area on parish property, and in a movie theater.

The victim in this case, now 26, came forward in January 2013, six months after a jury convicted Msgr. William J. Lynn of endangering the welfare of a child. The D.A. said the latest victim was inspired by the Lynn verdict. Lynn was the first Catholic administrator in the country to go to jail for failing to adequately supervise sexually abusive priests. The allegations in the new arrest are eerily similar to the Billy Doe case.

Meanwhile, D.A. Williams used the press conference to again attack Msgr. Lynn for not reigning in abusive priests. But when push came to shove, Williams said his office had declined to indict Lynn on another child endangerment charge, because the crime in this latest case missed the statute of limitations by 3 months.

With that statement, the district attorney abruptly reversed the course of his self-described "historic" prosecution of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In the original indictment of Msgr. Lynn, the D.A. missed the statute of limitations by 9 years in the case of one alleged 14-year-old victim, Mark Bukwowski, but that didn't stop Williams from prosecuting Lynn for endangering the welfare of a child. So why did the D.A. decline to indict Lynn this time?

If you listen to the lawyers on the other side of the Lynn case, the district attorney chickened out because he fears his conviction of the monsignor is about to be reversed by an appeals court.

"This is an excuse; that's all it is," said Thomas A. Bergstrom, Lynn's lawyer, when told of the district attorney's comments. The district attorney, Bergstrom said, didn't indict Lynn for child endangerment because he knows he can't legally do it.

The D.A.'s decision to prosecute Lynn for endangering the welfare of a child was a prime topic during oral arguments last week in the appeal of Msgr. Lynn in Superior Court. Bergstrom argued that the district attorney could not legally prosecute Lynn under the state's original 1972 child endangerment law because the law requires the perpetrator to knowingly endanger the welfare of a child. Lynn didn't even know Billy Doe.

Also, the 1972 child endangerment law was typically applied in nearly 300 cases to parents, guardians and teachers. The D.A. prosecuted Lynn after the fact under the terms of a 2007 amended child endangerment law changed to specifically include supervisors such as Lynn, Bergstrom argued. Besides Lynn, no other supervisor in Pennsylvania has ever been charged with child endangerment.

"If that's not a bugle call of retreat, I don't know what is," said another defense lawyer in the case who asked to remain anonymous.

In 2010, Msgr. Lynn was charged with endangering the welfare of children [EWOC] because of Father James J. Brennan's alleged attempted rape in 1996 of 14-year-old Mark Bukowski. [Fathers James J. Brennan and Robert L. Brennan are not related.]

The law in effect at the time said that Pennsylvania residents had until two years after their 18th birthday to file EWOC charges. Bukowski turned 18 on Sept. 23, 1999, meaning that the Commonwealth had until September 2001 to file the EWOC charges. By filing the charges in 2010, the Commonwealth missed the statute of limitations by 9 years.

The district attorney, however, argued at the time that Father James J. Brennan had been engaged in a "continuing course of conduct" that began when the priest was "grooming" Bukowski and went on for 10 years, ending in 2006, when Father James J. Brennan was removed from ministry.

The "continuing course of conduct" argument flowed from two conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children charges that supposedly linked Msgr. Lynn to Father James J. Brennan. The allegation of the district attorney at the Lynn trial was that Lynn and Brennan had somehow conspired to keep Brennan in ministry so that Brennan could harm more children. No evidence of the alleged conspiracy, however, was presented at trial. Even pro-prosecution Judge M. Teresa Sarmina figured out there was no "there" there, and so after the prosecution rested its case, she tossed the two conspiracy charges as unproven.

A jury was left to decide two charges against Father James J. Brennan; EWOC and an attempted rape of Bukowski. The jury announced they were deadlocked on both charges on June 22, 2012, after 13 days of deliberation. The case against Father James J. Brennan is scheduled to be retried on Oct. 21.

At his press conference today, D.A. Williams began by warning that some of what he had to say would not be G-rated.

Father Robert L. Brennan "is accused of digitally penetrating the boy's anus, beginning when the victim was in the sixth grade. He [Brennan] later began forcing the boy to perform oral sex on him," Williams said.

Brennan, who now lives in Maryland, was arrested by Perryville, Maryland, police on Sept. 25th. He was expected to go before a judge today for an extradition hearing, the district attorney said.

"A serial abuser is now behind bars thanks to the brave actions of this young man," Williams said of the alleged victim. "It takes tremendous courage for any sexual assault victim to come forward and report the horrors he or she endured."

Williams then turned his attention to Msgr. Lynn.

"The case of Robert Brennan presents another instance of abuse under the watch of Msgr. Lynn, secretary of clergy under Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua," Williams said. "The actions Lynn took to shield predator priests from exposure and prosecution led to the victimization of untold numbers of Philadelphia area children."

Father Robert L. Brennan's duties have been restricted since the 2005 grand jury report that said that "Brennan had sexually or inappropriately touched more than 20 boys," Williams said. "Most of the complaints were based on the observation of archdiocese employees, fellow priests, principals and rectory workers. But the priest's archdiocese supervisors ignored these reports for over a decade."

"Evidence of misconduct by Brennan dates back to at least 1990 and 1991," Williams said, "when the principal of St. Pius X High School and the principal of the parish school at St. Mary's in Schwenksville raised concerns about Brennan's improper behavior with numerous students."

Archdiocese officials removed Father Brennan from St. Mary's in 1992, "only after the mother of a seventh grade altar boy complained that Brennan had touched her son inappropriately and forced him to sit on the priest's lap," the district attorney said.

After the complaint, however, Lynn recommended that Father Brennan be recycled to Resurrection of Our Lord Parish, Williams said. Even though doctors had warned that Brennan had exhibited evidence of pedophilia, and had a recurring behavior pattern that "presents future risk," Williams said.

When he appeared before the grand jury, Bishop Edward Cullen "acknowledged that assigning Brennan to Resurrection without restrictions "endangered the parish's children," Williams said.

"According to the grand jury's findings, 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 previously reported," Williams said.

"Two years before the incidents with which Brennan is now charged, the pastor at Resurrection reported to Secretary for Clergy Lynn that the rectory staff had observed Brennan inappropriately touching and wrestling with several adolescent boys in the sacristy and the rectory," Williams said. "Still, Lynn did nothing. He did not recommend removing the priest from his position, and Brennan continued as assistant pastor ... In that capacity he met, supervised and abused the victim who has now come forward."

"Lynn never reported to law enforcement any, any of the many allegations he heard about Brennan," the district attorney said. "Some of Brennan's victims testified before the grand jury; others have come forward since to describe how he [Brennan] molested and sexually assaulted them."

"Yet these victims were unable to press charges because the crimes fell outside the statute of limitations," Williams said. "Thus, with the assistance of 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."

"Despite the applicability of the endangerment statute to Lynn and other archdiocese managers for this current victim, they are not being charged today," Williams said, "because this victim's age puts his allegations three months beyond criminal statute of limitations for endangering the welfare of a child. Only the sexual assault crimes by Brennan himself, which carry a longer statute of limitations, can be prosecuted."

After he gave his prepared remarks, Williams refused to answer any questions from this reporter, saying only, "Have a nice day."








Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.