Detective, Defense Lawyer Battle over the Soul of Father Brennan

By Ralph Cipriano
Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial Blog
May 10, 2012

A defense lawyer and a detective went snorkeling through the archdiocese's confidential files Wednesday in search of the real Father James J. Brennan.

In an often tedious cross-examination, the defense lawyer tried to paint Father Brennan as a talented priest who was also a spiritual searcher, while the detective saw the 48-year-old Father Brennan as a tormented soul trying to hide a secret.

Meanwhile, the jury's attention span was challenged, as they often stared off into space while the defense lawyer and detective did battle during a long afternoon of questioning.

Defense lawyer Richard J. Fuschino Jr. asked Detective James Dougherty to dig into the priest's personnel jacket. Some 70 formerly confidential documents began with the priest's background as a seminarian. Father Brennan was the fourth of seven children born into an Irish-Catholic family. His father was a lapsed Catholic, his mother a true believer. The tensions in the Brennan marriage revolved around the couple's religious differences.

The son that they produced had a "buoyant, happy personality," but was also characterized by a searing intensity whenever he got involved in something. Father Brennan's contemporaries in the seminary saw him as "an articulate spokesman for the Catholic faith." His peers noted Father Brennan's leadership skills, amiable personality and eloquence. He had a "zeal for souls,"it was noted in the personnel files, and he also was "comfortable with both sexes," something unusual for a seminarian.

But Father Brennan was also moody, the archdiocese's confidential records said. He could be aloof, and had to be talked into doing mundane parish activities, such as attending the annual Christmas tree lighting service. The priest also wrote candidly that he "got tired of listening to all the elderly people talk about their problems."

The files that Fuschino and Dougherty sparred over were bathed in Catholic psycho-babble. There was plenty of talk about spiritual discernment, meditation, and contemplation, and ponderous phrases such as, "his priestliness was not in question."

Throughout the cross-examination, Fuschino tried to pull Dougherty into Catholic-speak, to discuss terminology such as spiritual discernment and seeking God's will for one's life, but every time, the prosecution objected, and Judge M. Teresa Sarmina upheld the objection.

Father Brennan is accused of the attempted rape of a 14-year-old boy in 1996. During his cross-examination of Detective Doughery, defense lawyer Fuschino took pains to point out that in all the documents, the only times the word abuse was mentioned was twice, once by Cardinal Bevilacqua and once by Monsignor Lynn, and both were referring to abuse that Father Brennan himself may have suffered when he was a child.

"Yes, that's my understanding," Dougherty deadpanned.

The other defendant in the trial, Msgr. William J. Lynn, was quoted in the files as being concerned about Father Brennan. The priest had "a restlessness in his life that's very pervasive," Lynn noted in his files. The monsignor wrote that Father Brennan was having "a real crisis of the faith" when he applied for a leave of absence from the priesthood back in 1996.

The loquacious Father Brennan added to the debate when he wrote to Cardinal Bevilacqua, to confess that he had "chased false gods" while off on his leave of absence.

But Detective Dougherty stubbornly kept both feet planted on the ground. "I believe it was more than just a crisis of faith," the detective told the defense lawyer. Dougherty implied that Father Brennan was running from other demons.

When Father Brennan sought to become a Trappist monk in 2000, he told the cardinal that he had fallen in love with "the contemplative life." But Dougherty read the priest's spiritual yearnings, and calmly told the defense lawyer, "I would say it's being written by someone who's tormented by something."

For Father Brennan, the spiritual search ended on Jan. 18, 2006, when Mark Bukowski went to authorities and charged that ten years earlier, Father Brennan had attempted to rape him.

The priest was given 48 hours to move out of the rectory where he was staying. He was removed from ministry, and stripped of his priestly functions. On courtroom computers, the defense lawyer showed the jury copies of the thousands of letters that the archdiocese sent to former high school students and parishioners of Father Brennan's, seeking other victims of abuse.

The defense lawyer also displayed articles printed in The Philadelphia Inquirer and Delaware County Times, among other newspapers, that advertised that authorities were seeking additional victims of abuse. But none came forward. When Detective Dougherty was asked by Fuschino about the search for additional victims, he gave a carefully coded response, that no one came forward to say that they themselves were the victims of abuse.








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