Priest: Silence Ordered on Abuse

By Nancy Phillips, Mark Fazlollah and Craig R. McCoy
Philadelphia Inquirer [Philadelphia PA]
August 7, 2005

When the Rev. James Gigliotti told church officials in the early 1980s that a Northeast Philadelphia priest was molesting boys, he remembers receiving a stern warning.

"This comes from the highest authority: You're to keep your mouth shut," Gigliotti said an assistant chancellor told him.

The Philadelphia Archdiocese quickly removed the accused priest, the Rev. James J. Brzyski, from his parish in the Fox Chase section.

But the archdiocese did not tell parishioners the reason. Nor did it report Brzyski to police.

With his conduct a secret, Brzyski remained a welcome guest in parishioners' homes. A former altar boy said this meant Brzyski kept abusing him - for years.

"I was raped by the time I was 13," said John Delaney, a father of two who works as a roofer. "I don't have any religious beliefs anymore because of what he did to me. I have no faith in anything anymore."

Brzyski's run of alleged attacks took place in the late 1970s and early '80s. Ten men have said he assaulted them as boys during his six years of active service as a priest. That would make him one of the worst known offenders in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Three of his accusers have told The Inquirer that Brzyski plied them with candy, ice cream or alcohol before assaulting them - in rectories, in their homes, in his car, in a house at the Jersey Shore. Two say he molested them in the sacristy, the room near the altar where priests don their vestments.

Even so, the church did not identify him publicly as an abuser until this year, in a brief notice published June 23. It said only that Brzyski and six other priests had been defrocked for "misconduct involving minors."

Brzyski, now 54 and living in Chesapeake, Va., did not respond to telephone calls and a letter left at his home seeking comment for this article.

He is one of more than 50 priests named in a forthcoming grand jury report on sex abuse within the archdiocese. As The Inquirer reported Wednesday, prosecutors have concluded that the statute of limitations bars criminal charges against Brzyski and others identified in the report.

His story highlights a focus of the grand jury's work: how the archdiocese's silence kept children, parents, police and the public unaware.

Gigliotti is the first priest to say publicly that the archdiocese told him to keep quiet.

"I take full responsibility for this, but those words, 'You're to keep your mouth shut,' made a big impression on me," Gigliotti said. "Because it came from high authority."

Gigliotti identified the man who said this as the Rev. John W. Graf, an assistant chancellor under then-Cardinal John Krol.

Graf, who now heads a Chester County parish, said last week that he did not wish to comment on Gigliotti's account "because of the privacy of all the people involved."

Gigliotti, 57, a Franciscan priest who now leads a parish in Arlington, Texas, first crossed paths with Brzyski a little more than two decades ago. Gigliotti was teaching at Bishop Egan High School in Lower Bucks County, where Brzyski worked in his first parish.

A tall man with a shock of blond hair, Brzyski had what Gigliotti remembered as a laser-like focus on children.

"He was magical," Gigliotti said. "He was fun. They had his complete and undivided attention. . . . He would absolutely ignore the adults.

"He stalked his prey. He just plucked from the garden indiscriminately. It was masterful."

The son of a Philadelphia police officer, James Brzyski studied at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood and was ordained in 1977. He was assigned to St. John the Evangelist Church in Lower Makefield.

His accusers say the abuse began almost immediately.

The allegations break down this way: Three former altar boys have told The Inquirer of abuse by Brzyski. Gigliotti said he brought five additional accusers to the archdiocese's attention in the early 1980s. And two other men have testified to the grand jury, according to two people with knowledge of the probe.One of the former altar boys said Brzyski began abusing him in 1978 when he was 10.

The Inquirer is withholding the man's name. The paper does not identify victims in sex-crime cases unless they wish to be named.

Now 37 and living in Yardley, the man said Brzyski took him into the rectory, gave him candy and gifts, and invited him to catered dinners. Together they watched movies on HBO - a treat, he said, for someone without cable television at home.

The man recalled being flattered to be in the company of priests: "It was like walking around the White House."

In the privacy of Brzyski's room, he said, they watched pornographic movies. There, the priest touched his genitals and had him touch Brzyski's until the priest ejaculated.

"This is our secret," the man recalled Brzyski telling him.

He was abused almost daily for about three years, he said.

In August 1981, Brzyski moved on to become assistant pastor at St. Cecilia's in Fox Chase.

In the fall of 1983, the boy started his sophomore year at Bishop Egan. During that school year, he said, he finally told his parents.

The boy's parents went to Gigliotti, then an Egan teacher.

Gigliotti recalled that he was horrified. He said he contacted the archdiocese, and a meeting was set up in the chancery office, in Center City.

The man's father remembered the meeting. "We sat down with three or four priests," the father said in a recent interview. "They assured us he would never be a priest after we left."

Within days, the church removed him from St. Cecilia's. Parishioners say they were told he was on sick leave; that was how Brzyski was listed in the archdiocese directory in the following year, 1985.

Meanwhile, more boys came forward to Gigliotti.

Brzyski "had a group of neighborhood parish boys. They all knew each other," Gigliotti said. "In that little subculture, there was a network of hurting."

He said he relayed each allegation to Graf, the archdiocese official.

Gigliotti said it was Graf who told him not to talk about the allegations, and who said this instruction came from "the highest authority."

Gigliotti said he understood this to be a reference to Krol, who led the archdiocese from 1961 to 1988 and died in 1996. "I felt very intimidated. It was Cardinal Krol," he said.

Gigliotti said that in the mid-1980s, not long after he reported the abuse, he was told that Brzyski had been sent to St. Luke Institute, a church-run mental-health center in Silver Spring, Md.

"This is being taken care of," he said Graf told him. "He is in therapy. It's being handled."

Asked about Gigliotti's account, Graf, now a monsignor and pastor of Assumption BVM Church in West Grove, Chester County, said he needed time to reply.

A few days later, Graf said he had "really prayed it out," and had decided not to comment "because of the sensitivity of the issue and the privacy of all the people involved."

Matt Gambino, a spokesman for Cardinal Justin Rigali, who has headed the archdiocese since 2003, said Rigali would have no comment on Brzyski's case other than the published notice of his defrocking.

John Delaney, 33, said Brzyski first befriended him in 1982, when he was an 11-year-old altar boy.

In an interview at his Northeast Philadelphia home, Delaney recalled that the priest had invited him to his room at the rectory and molested him.

Delaney said the assaults continued until he was 17.

"You're scared to death," he said. "It's a priest. Who's going to believe you?"

Early on, Delaney said, he told his stepfather - but "I got smacked across the face and told not to talk about a priest like that ever again."

To an 11-year-old, life in the rectory was a marvel.

"Guys were eating off crystal and drinking out of gold glasses," Delaney recalled. Alcohol flowed, he said, even when altar boys visited.

"Guys were taking us up into their rooms," said Delaney, who struggled for years with alcohol and drug abuse. "You'd think somebody might think something's going on."

When Brzyski left St. Cecilia's parish in 1984, Delaney said, his family was told only that the priest was sent away for some form of treatment.

When Brzyski returned - a year later, by Gigliotti's account - he no longer served as an active priest. His name soon disappeared from archdiocese directories.

But Delaney said the priest still came calling at the family's home in Fox Chase. There, he said, the assaults continued for four more years.

Another former St. Cecilia's parishioner, a 34-year-old plumber, said Brzyski assaulted him for years, too, starting when he was 11.

"It's devastating," said the man, now living in Northeast Philadelphia. "There was a time in my life when I didn't want to go on. It was too dark and dismal."

When the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office announced its grand jury probe in 2002, the man said he decided to tell his story.

"I felt that I had to come forward and do something to save other people," he said.

He gave prosecutors a detailed account, as did Delaney.

"I want the truth to be told," Delaney said. "It might be my foot that kicks a door open that lets everyone else come through."

After Brzyski left the church, he worked as a computer technician in Philadelphia. He lived for a time in East Falls, where he incorporated a talent and modeling agency, as well as a children's birthday party business, out of his home, public records show. It's unclear how much business, if any, his companies did.

He once told a neighbor that children loved it when he wore a Barney costume.

By 2002, Brzyski had moved to Virginia. That year, a 17-year-old filed a criminal complaint accusing him of attempted sexual battery, a misdemeanor. The teenager said he had dozed off from drinking at a cookout at Brzyski's house and awoke to discover Brzyski groping him in his underpants.

Brzyski filed a countercharge, accusing the teenager of kicking him and trespassing.

In court, both charges were withdrawn. Court papers don't explain why, and Brzyski's Virginia lawyer, Steven Shames, has declined to comment.

Why did no one call the police about Brzyski 20 years ago?

The answer is complicated.

"We were just so disturbed to find out that this creature was out there among young boys, and we kind of felt guilty," said the mother of one Brzyski accuser. "We should have gone to the police back then, and it would have stopped. Being good Catholics, we didn't do that."

Gigliotti said, "I think we'd all go back and say we should bring the police in right away."