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  Two Priests Removed from Duty
The Nursing-Home Chaplains Were Named in a Report on Abuse. The Cardinal Ousted Them

By David O'Reilly
Philadelphia Inquirer
September 27, 2005

In a turnaround, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia yesterday announced that it had removed two nursing-home chaplains who had sadomasochistic or otherwise inappropriate physical relationships with teen boys in years past.

Both men were identified Wednesday in a Philadelphia grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse in the archdiocese that blasted two previous archbishops for systematically concealing the crimes.

The lengthy report assails the archdiocese's reassigning abusive priests and failing to notify the communities where they were placed. The report questions why the Revs. John H. Mulholland, 66, and Robert L. Brennan, 67, were allowed to stay in ministry despite evidence of the two men's proclivities.

After the report was released last week, Donna Farrell, the archdiocese's spokeswoman, said a special review board had studied Brennan's and Mulholland's cases and concluded that their actions had not crossed the threshold of sexual abuse, allowing them to remain in ministry.

But on Sunday, Cardinal Justin Rigali removed both men from their posts, according to a brief statement. Mulholland had been serving as chaplain at Immaculate Mary nursing home in Northeast Philadelphia since 2002, and Brennan had been chaplain since 2004 at Camilla Hall, a nursing home for nuns on the campus of Immaculata University.

Yesterday, Farrell said that the two priests were relieved not because they had been judged abusers, but because the "extraordinary attention" they had received in the grand jury report and the news media "meant they could no longer be effective in ministry."

At a meeting of residents of Immaculate Mary yesterday, Stuart Skinner, the home's administrator, and Msgr. Joseph Tracy, archdiocesan secretary for Catholic Human Services, apologized to residents, saying they never knew of Mulholland's sadomasochistic history.

"I feel as angry as you probably do - a sense of betrayal," Skinner told about 50 residents and a dozen family members gathered in a ground-floor meeting room.

The grand jury report said that Mulholland in 1968 wrote to a teen boy, saying that he wanted to engage in painful bondage with the youth. The boy later admitted to having a relationship with the priest. The report also states that Mulholland was reassigned to St. Anastasia parish in Newtown Square, where he "strung up" one boy and "was piercing him or jabbing him with some instrument all over his body."

Skinner added that in 2002, Mulholland's predecessor as chaplain, the Rev. Thomas J. Wisniewski, was "whisked away under cover of darkness, and we didn't know why."

Skinner said that only after he read the grand jury report last week did he learn that Wisniewski had also been implicated. In the 1980s, according to the report, Wisniewski had a three-year sexual relationship with a Cardinal O'Hara High School student that began when the boy was 15.

Skinner said that he, as "the administrator for seven years, was not made aware of these things. There was not good judgment in my mind utilized to allow us to... do an effective job supervising both of those gentlemen."

He noted, however, that he had never received any report that Mulholland had mistreated a resident of the 296-bed home, and that he had received many letters of praise for Mulholland.

Tracy told the residents that neither he nor Msgr. Timothy Senior, the previous Catholic Human Services secretary, had been aware of Mulholland's background until about 21/2 weeks ago. When the archdiocesan Office for Clergy assigned Mulholland in 2002, he said, "we were told it was a regular change in assignment."

Senior was appointed head of the Office for Clergy in June.

Pat Lauser of Collegeville, whose mother has been a resident of Immaculate Mary for nearly a year, attended yesterday's meeting. She praised Tracy and Skinner for being forthright and faulted the archdiocese for its long practice of secretly reassigning unfit priests.

"I'm really disappointed that they didn't send someone who could answer for it," she said afterward.

On Wednesday, Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham released a devastating grand jury report on sex abuse in the archdiocese that excoriated Cardinals Anthony J. Bevilacqua and John Krol for putting the reputation and financial interests of the archdiocese ahead of the safety of children. The report does not recommend that charges be filed because the statute of limitations for such crimes has expired.

That report - which the archdiocese has called biased and anti-Catholic - questioned why Mulholland and Brennan were still serving in ministry despite the archdiocese's repeated assurances that it had removed all known abusers from ministry in recent years.

Brennan had been the target of repeated complaints about "inappropriate or suspicious behavior" with more than 20 boys dating to 1988, when he was pastor of St. Ignatius parish in Yardley.

The report states that a boy told church officials that Brennan "regularly held him tightly on his lap... and rubbed his 'belly' and touched his "butt.' "

Other youths also got the same treatment from Brennan, according to the boy.

An administrator of Camilla Hall, the retirement home for nuns where Brennan was resident chaplain, declined to comment about his removal.

"You have no idea what a good man he is," said one elderly nun, who declined to give her name. "We are devastated."

Priests from St. Jerome Church, adjacent to Immaculate Mary, were called in Thursday to begin covering Masses for Mulholland, the church's pastor, the Rev. Joseph B. Graham, said in an interview yesterday.

Farrell said the request was made because Mulholland's and Brennan's situations were "under review" in light of the grand jury report.

Graham said that though he was acquainted with Mulholland from their seminary days together, he had had no recent dealings with him and had not been notified about his controversial past.

The St. Jerome parish school has a "buddy program" in which some pupils send cards to individual residents of the home and pay regular visits.

Graham saw no risk, however, saying that teachers supervised the pupils and that Mulholland had "no connection" with the program.

The episode has been "a terrible thing," Graham said.

"It has affected us all," he said. "We're trying to help out where we can."

For archdiocesan documents, the grand jury�s report, a catalog of sexually abusive priests, the list of abusive priests by assignment and parish, a discussion board, and previous coverage, go to http://go.philly.com/priests.

Contact staff writer David O'Reilly at 215-854-5723 or doreilly@phillynews.com. Inquirer staff writers Nancy Petersen and Jim Remsen contributed to this article.

 
 

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