Lawyer Questions Reason for Accused Priest's Leave

By Maryclaire Dale
San Antonio Express-News
May 9, 2012

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Defense lawyers for an accused predator-priest are challenging evidence that he once told church supervisors he had been sexually abused as a boy.

The Rev. James Brennan, 48, is charged with sexually assaulting a teen in 1996, when he was on leave from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Church memos presented Wednesday at his trial state that Brennan requested the leave, at least in part, to deal with childhood sexual abuse. But Brennan later denied telling Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua or his aide, Monsignor William Lynn, that he had been abused.

His lawyer suggested he had instead had a crisis of faith, and reviewed several lengthy, contemplative letters Brennan sent the archdiocese during his leave. The letters describe his progress with his psychologist and spiritual director, but do not specifically refer to any abuse.

However, a detective felt they implied more than spiritual failings, given passages about the priest's "wounded heart" and "tormented state of unbridled passion."

"I would say it's written by someone being tormented by something," Detective James Dougherty testified.

The defense emphasized that the archdiocese quickly removed Brennan from ministry when his accuser came forward in 2006, and widely publicized the complaint to suburban prosecutors and supervisors at the parishes and Catholic high school where he had worked.

No one else has ever accused Brennan of abuse, defense lawyers note.

Prosecutors say Lynn had been warned before 1996 that Brennan was a risk because of earlier complaints from nuns that he was having loud parties and living with two other men when he served as chaplain at a special-needs facility in Delaware County. Brennan described the men as his brother and a nephew, but prosecutors allege at least one was his former student at Cardinal O'Hara High School.

Brennan was once reprimanded for roughhousing with the same student behind closed doors at O'Hara, where he worked as a teacher and guidance counselor from 1991 to 1996, according to Dr. Thomas O'Brien. O'Brien, who ran the guidance department, later became superintendent of archdiocesan schools.

The former student has not been called to testify during the trial, which began in late March and is expected to last three more weeks.

The accuser testified that Brennan abused him at a West Chester apartment where the priest lived while on leave. Brennan concedes they viewed pornography and shared a bed but said nothing sexual happened, according to transcripts of his 2008 church, or canon, trial.

Brennan returned from his archdiocesan leave in 1997, then moved to a Trappist monastery in 2000 for several months. He returned to the archdiocese yet again, serving five years at a Feasterville parish, before asking in late 2005 for leave to work at a small parish on the Outer Banks. That request was pending when his accuser's father came forward, a day after the accuser attempted suicide.

Brennan is on trial with Lynn, the longtime secretary for clergy. Lynn is charged with child endangerment and conspiracy for allegedly keeping Brennan and other accused priests in ministry.


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