Why Did the D.A. Wait Eight Months to Arrest Father Brennan?

By Ralph Cipriano
October 23, 2013

There's an unexplained mystery in the arrest of Father Robert L. Brennan.

The alleged victim in the case came forward in January 2013 to charge that between 1998 and 2001, when he was 11 to 14 years old, he was an altar boy sexually assaulted by Father Brennan. The Archdiocese of Philadelphia immediately reported the allegation to the district attorney's office. Yet, District Attorney Seth Williams waited eight months to arrest Father Brennan on Sept. 25th.

Yesterday, Brennan's lawyer, Trevan Borum, a former Philadelphia assistant district attorney, asked why.

"If the allegation was credible, why does it take nine months?" said Borum, who likened the case to Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter. "I've had no explanation whatsoever. I don't know what on earth took them so long."

For the past nine months, District Attorney Seth Williams has stonewalled questions from this reporter. So sadly, someone else in the all-too compliant local media will have to ask the D.A. to explain the eight-month gap in the record on Father Brennan.

All I can do is post the question publicly. So here goes: If Father Brennan was such a menace to society, as the D.A. contends, why wasn't he taken off the streets immediately?

On Sept. 26th, when he announced the arrest of Father Brennan, D.A. Williams referred to a "lengthy subsequent investigation." He provided no further details.

Then last week, D.A. Willliams told reporters the victim in the case, now 26, had been found dead by detectives. The D.A. blamed Father Brennan for the tragedy.

"The decades-long demons and scars the victim in this case endured ended this weekend, when he was found dead by Philadelphia police detectives," Williams said. "This young man's courage should serve as an inspiration to us all."

The medical examiner's office told reporters the alleged victim had died from an accidental drug overdose. The victim's lawyer amplified on the spin emanating from the D.A.'s office.

"He was a wonderful young man doing everything he possibly could to pull himself out of the darkness," Marci Hamillton told reporters.

Borum had a different take.

"Now, we don't have a chance to vindicate Father Brennan in court," he said. It's like his client has a scarlet letter sewn on his chest.

Meanwhile, even in death, the alleged victim still wears a cloak of anonymity.

Anyone see a problem?

Borum said he had no idea what other evidence the D.A. had against Father Brennan, besides the allegations of the alleged victim, now dead.

"Without benefit of discovery, I don't know if they have any additional evidence," Borum said. "They know what the evidence is. I don't. I'm in the dark."

The alleged victim in the Father Brennan case came forward six months after a jury convicted Msgr. William J. Lynn of endangering the welfare of a child. The D.A. said the victim was inspired by the Lynn verdict.

Sorry, but Billy Doe just doesn't inspire me.

Father Brennan, a 75-year-old retired priest living in Maryland, was a known abuser with 20 previous alleged victims. D.A. Williams charged Brennan with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and aggravated indecent assault.

The altar boy was allegedly assaulted at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in Northeast Philadelphia, where Father Brennan  served as assistant pastor. The crimes, according to the D.A., supposedly took place in the church sacristy, the priest's bedroom in the church rectory, a storage area on parish property, and in a movie theater.

Sounds like a rerun of the Billy Doe story. But was it true?

Father Brennan was jailed and bail set at $1 million. Borum subsequently filed a bail reduction motion that was granted. Bail was reduced to $50,000. Father Brennan is now out of jail and living in Maryland.

Asked if his client posed a danger to society, Borum replied, "absolutely not."

"He's had stent implant surgery," Borum said, and the priest suffers from cardiovascular disease and hypertension. "He's on a lot of medication," Borum said. "He's no threat to anyone."

There may not be a valid law enforcement reason to wait 8 months to arrest a predator priest, but there may be a political reason.

While the arrest of Father Brennan was on the shelf, Msgr. Lynn's appeal was being mulled over in Superior Court. Nine days after a panel of justices questioned the validity of the prosecution of Msgr. Lynn, D.A. Williams held a press conference to announce the arrest of Father Brennan. Williams used that press conference as a platform to make a political hit on Msgr. Lynn.

The D.A. claimed that in the Father Brennan case, Lynn was responsible for endangering the welfare of a child. But the D.A. said he couldn't prosecute Lynn because the case missed the statute of limitations by 3 months.

This was a bogus argument, as the D.A. in a similar case, had prosecuted Lynn for the exact same offense, endangering the welfare of a child, even though that case missed the statute of limitations by 9 years.

Lynn's defense lawyer then publicly rebuked Williams, and said he had filed an ethical complaint.

Borum had one other question. He asked why the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had never notified his client of the allegations against him. Borum said Father Brennan only learned of the allegation the day he was arrested.

"I don't understand why they didn't notify him immediately," Borum said. "I'm in the dark right now."

The archdiocese's "policies for the protection of children and young people" say the archdiocese's "director of investigations "shall provide the accused cleric with information sufficient to enable the cleric to respond to the allegation." The polices also state that the director of investigations shall "promptly and objectively interview the accuser and the accused and other witnesses in accord with canonical practice, which includes committing the information to written form and allowing the person interviewed to review, edit and sign what has been committed to writing."

In the case of Father Robert L. Brennan, none of that was done. In response, the archdiocese issued a statement that sounded like it was drafted by a committee of lawyers:

"The Archdiocese of Philadelphia received the allegation of sexual abuse of a minor that led to the recent arrest of Father Robert Brennan in January of 2013, and immediately provided this information to law enforcement in accordance with Archdiocesan policy," wrote Kenneth A. Gavin, archdiocese director of communications, in an email.

"While the Archdiocese does have a responsibility to inform an accused cleric of an accusation so that he may respond in the course of a canonical investigation, our policy is to allow law enforcement to complete its criminal investigation prior to commencing a canonical investigation," Gavin wrote. "Prior to the allegation that led to his arrest, a process was already in place aimed at Father Brennan's laicization. It is currently in progress with the Holy See."

So, in other words, although the archdiocese's policies say priests should be notified of an accusation, and have a chance to respond, that goes out the window if the local D.A. is investigating, or if the church is already attempting to dump the priest?

Spokesman Gavin had no further comment.

In other news involving accused priests named Father Brennan, the trial of Father James J. Brennan has been postponed again.

Father James J. Brennan, no relation to Father Robert L. Brennan, was supposed to be re-tried beginning Monday in Common Pleas Court. Brennan went free last year after a jury deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquittal on a charge of attempted rape of a 14-year old.

The case has been postponed until June 16 to give Father James J. Brennan's lawyer, William J. Brennan [no relation to either of the Father Brennans] more time to investigate.


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