Pastor Removed from Post

By Jacob Fenton
The Reporter [Pennsylvania]
September 27, 2005

The Philadelphia Archdiocese on Sunday ended the assignment of a priest accused of molesting at least six seventh-grade boys at St. Mary Elementary School in Schwenksville between 1989 and 1990.

Robert L. Brennan‚ accused of molesting a total of more than 20 boys from four different parishes‚ was relieved of his assignment as chaplain at a retirement home for nuns‚ the archdiocese said in a brief statement Monday.

Citing the "extraordinary attention" Brennan and another priest had received‚ the archdiocese said the two would remain without assignments until "such time as a permanent‚ long-term plan can be determined."

The other priest‚ John H. Mulholland‚ was described in the Philadelphia grand jury's report released last week on the clergy sex scandal as "sick and dangerous" and accused of having "strung up" a young boy and "piercing him or at least jabbing him with some instrument all over his body."

The grand jury report accused the archdiocese of ignoring numerous reports that Brennan had abused boys‚ even before he was placed at St. Mary in 1989.

While a pastor at St. Ignatius in Yardley‚ Bucks County‚ in 1988‚ Brennan was accused of behaving inappropriately with a 13-year-old boy. The boy told an archdiocese official that "Brennan held him tightly on his lap‚ so that the boy could not escape‚ and rubbed his 'belly' and touched his 'butt."'

Even though the archdiocese identified six other boys who had been abused – including one who spent nights at the rectory – Brennan was placed at St. Mary after he told a therapist that he had not behaved inappropriately. The therapist was not given the opportunity to talk to the alleged victims.

In March of 1991‚ five seventh-grade boys at St. Mary school told their principal Karen Coldwell that they'd been "inappropriately touched." Years later one of the boys told the grand jury that Brennan had once summoned him into the rectory where the priest was watching a pornographic movie.

Though Coldwell referred the complaint to the archdiocese‚ she told the grand jury she was exasperated that nothing was done to restrict Brennan‚ and even began checking up on him from time to time herself.

In 1992‚ another parent reported that Brennan touched her son inappropriately during "private lessons." A nun in the rectory told a church official that Brennan grabbed and wrestled with altar boys and high school students. "She said he had 'special ones' including one whom she described as a 'disturbed' boy."

Coldwell‚ now a principal elsewhere in the area‚ would not speak to a reporter.

Church officials at St. Mary did not return calls.

Brennan was again transferred‚ though reports of abuse continued for years. Former Philadelphia Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua told the grand jury that "Brennan's behavior‚ including being caught on top of a boy in the sacristy‚ was merely a matter of 'boundary issues.'"

No restrictions were placed on Brennan until 2004‚ when he was assigned as a chaplain to a retired nuns' home.

One longtime St. Mary church member said there had been persistent rumors about Brennan.

Though Brennan was "worse than Judas‚" there were many priests who were good men‚ said the woman‚ who asked not to be identified because she's still active in the church.

"I think that every priest‚ every bishop‚ every cardinal‚ every person who enabled (the abusive priests) should be in jail‚ and to know that my cardinals – who are next to the pope – enabled them sickens me‚" she said.


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