September 8, 2019 – 5:00 AM
By Maria Panaritis
The creepy smile. In photos of defrocked archdiocesan priest Francis Trauger last week outside a Bucks County police station, the alleged child sexual predator flashed an outsized grin. He was wearing a suit jacket that flitted as he moved an arm. The pose was more fashion-catalog preen than street candid of a 74-year-old being booked for molesting children.
Then again, Trauger had evaded justice since at least 1981. So that megawatt grin? Maybe it was just that of a septuagenarian who knew that he’d mostly dodged the system.
His arrest after so many decades was itself as startling as the images shot by an Inquirer photographer. But there soon was more to fuel a sense of unease.
Two days after Trauger’s arrest on assault charges out of Bristol, another disgraced priest’s face was blasted into the news, that of defrocked Archdiocese of Philadelphia cleric Robert L. Brennan. The feds snapped up the octogenarian in Maryland on charges that he lied to the FBI in Philadelphia about his relationship with the family of a young victim, Sean McIlmail. Sean died the last time Brennan faced charges. His death had made the case fall apart a few years ago.
No victim, no crime.
Trauger. Brennan. Names and faces I had never forgotten.
I’d spent many months 17 years ago trying to chase allegations that these then-active priests were abusers. Their arrests by state and federal prosecutors now, nearly two decades later, are a testament to the perseverance of prosecutors and victims. Even against long odds and a statute of limitations too short to allow most prosecutions, they have refused to dim the spotlight on these horrors that the church helped go undetected and, as a tragic result, unprosecuted.
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