The district attorney's office has struck a deal with Father James J. Brennan, who was accused of the attempted rape 20 years ago of a then 14-year-old boy.
On Monday, Father Brennan, whose retrial was scheduled to begin Oct. 24th, pleaded no contest to a second-degree misdemeanor charge of simple assault, and was placed on two years probation.
"This case, which took six or seven years to resolve, ended with a whimper and not a bang because they made us an offer we couldn't refuse," said criminal defense lawyer William J. Brennan, no relation, who represented Father Brennan.
The case sure started with a bang. Back in 2011, the district attorney issued a grand jury report, still online, which stated eleven times that Father Brennan had anally raped 14-year-old Mark Bukowski back in 1996. It happened in the priest's apartment, on a night when the priest admitted he showed the boy pornography and then got into bed with him.
This excerpt is from pages 11 and 12 of the 2011 grand jury report:
Father Brennan, who was now shirtless, insisted that Mark remove his gym shorts and climb into bed with him in only his underwear, which Mark did. Mark attempted to sleep on his side, with his back to Father Brennan, because he was afraid to look at the priest. As Mark lay in that position, Father Brennan hugged him from behind, resting his chin on Mark’s shoulder and pulling the boy closer to him.
When Father Brennan pulled Mark toward him, Mark felt Father Brennan’s erect penis enter his buttocks. Mark began to cry, and asked himself over and over again, “Why is this happening?” as Father Brennan anally raped him. Mark fell asleep that night with Father Brennan’s penis still in his buttocks.
The alleged rape, however, never happened, as Bukowski would subsequently testify in court. It turned out that the district attorney's office had gilded the lily, trying to turn what William J. Brennan would describe in court as a "savage spooning" into an anal rape.
Father Brennan was tried in 2012 as a co-defendant with Msgr. William J. Lynn in the first Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial.
On the witness stand Mark Bukowski testified that both he and the priest had t-shirts and boxer shorts on the night they spent in the priest's bed.
The grand jury report called for indicting Father Brennan and charging him with rape and involuntary deviant sexual intercourse with a minor. But when the trial began, the rape charge against Father Brennan was reduced to attempted rape, with no official explanation.
Now, it's been reduced to a simple second-degree misdemeanor assault, akin to a DWI. Father Brennan will not even have to register as a sex offender. He may remain a priest, William Brennan said, depending on the outcome of a canonical trial in the archdiocese.
"We tried the first case for five months" the first time, in 2012, William Brennan said. "With massive evidence against the archdiocese, through the co-defendant [Msgr. Lynn], the Commonwealth was unable to secure a conviction."
In the Lynn trial, the prosecution was allowed to introduce 21 supplemental cases of sex abuse dating back to 1948, three years before Lynn was born, to show a pattern of behavior in the archdiocese, namely sweeping sex abuse complaints under the rug.
While Msgr. Lynn was convicted by a jury in 2012 on one count of endangering the welfare of a child, the same jury voted 11-1 for acquittal of Father Brennan on the charge of attempted rape.
William Brennan said he was eager to try the case again, because he had acquired a civil deposition where Mark Bukowski provided "great fodder for impeachment." The first time he tried the case, William Brennan described Bukowski a "serial confabulator."
Bukowski is a former Marine who went AWOL and was discharged under less than honorable conditions. He had a history of drug problems and criminal arrests. His own mother accused him of stealing from herself and her husband. Bukowski also has pleaded guilty in the past to forgery, identity theft, and two counts of filing a false statement to authorities.
But while William Brennan said he was confident of winning the case, if he lost, Father Brennan would face "a lengthy jail sentence" of perhaps decades in jail.
It was a chance the lawyer decided he couldn't take. William Brennan said he was mindful of the fates of the other three priest defendants who were tried by the D.A. in the archdiocese sex abuse cases.
Msgr. Lynn served his minimum prison term of three years in jail and faces a retrial next year.
Father Charles Engelhardt died in jail. Former priest Edward V. Avery is still in jail serving a 2 1/2 to five year sentence.
Since his first trial, which ended with a hung jury, Father Brennan has worked in the construction business.
"He's a very devout man, he's a true believer," William Brennan said of his client. Asked whether Father Brennan wants to remain a priest, the lawyer said, "He probably wants to catch his breath and see what the rest of his life holds for him."
"He's been working in manual labor," William Brennan said of his client. "But as far as I'm concerned, he is still an ordained Roman Catholic priest."
"The church may take action" against Father Brennan, William Brennan said. "I am not a canon lawyer. But based on the criminal trial where I represented him, I would presume that he has an argument to make against laicization."
"If a priest gets a first time DWI, which is the same offense level, he is not automatically laicized," William Brennan said.
An archdiocese spokesman, Ken Gavin, said that Father Brennan "has not been in active ministry for over a decade." He was placed on leave in 2006.
"While technically a priest in name, he is not in function," Gavin said. "His laicization case is pending with the Vatican."
The deal with Father Brennan follows a recent pattern with the D.A.'s office of doing whatever they can to win at all costs. At the expense of their ostensible cause, namely protecting the safety of children.
Last year, the district attorney offered a deal to Father Andrew McCormick, accused of raping a 10 year-old altar boy in 1997. If convicted on five sex charges, McCormick was facing a prison term of 25 to 50 years.
The priest's first trial ended in a hung jury. At McCormick's second trial last year, the D.A. was so determined to win that they offered the priest a sweetheart deal.
After, the jury sent the judge a note saying they were at an impasse, the prosecutor told the priest that if he would plead guilty to a single charge of corrupting the morals of a minor, he was looking at no jail time plus four years probation. And he wouldn't have even had to register as a sex offender under Megan's Law.
Father McCormick, however, said he couldn't plead guilty because he didn't do anything, and that it would be a lie. So he turned down the deal. His faith was rewarded when his second jury trial ended in another mistrial.
At the district attorney's office, if it's all about protecting the children from predators in collars, the D.A. has dropped the ball twice in the past two years.
Which makes you wonder what all the noise was about in the first place.