Priest recently added to New Orleans' credibly accused clergy roster also put on Las Vegas list
By Ramon Antonio Vargas
Times-Picayune and New Orleans Advocate
August 22, 2020
|A still image of a video depicting Henry Brian Highfill|
|A photo of Scot Brandner with a letter he received from Brian Highfill|
A priest whom the Archdiocese of New Orleans added this week to a list of clergymen faced with credible allegations of child molestation dating back to the 1980s has since been listed on a similar roster compiled by church officials in Las Vegas, where he spent his retirement.
Officials with the Diocese of Las Vegas said they moved to include Brian Highfill on their credibly accused list Friday as a result of two complaints filed against him by accusers he encountered while working in New Orleans. No one in Las Vegas had accused Highfill, 78, of any misconduct as of Friday, officials there said.
Highfill was ordained in 1974 and worked at a half-dozen different churches in the New Orleans area over the next six years, among them Metairie’s St. Catherine of Siena and St. Edward the Confessor. He later moved away from New Orleans and worked as a military chaplain for about two decades before retiring in the late 1990s in Las Vegas, where he continued in ministry as a volunteer.
After new revelations about the worldwide Catholic Church’s ongoing clergy sex abuse crisis surfaced two summers ago, a man named Mike Brandner Sr. contacted Las Vegas diocese officials in late August 2018 and provided them with love letters that his late younger brother, Scot, had started receiving from Highfill when Scot was a high school senior in 1980.
Scot Brandner was 10 when he met Highfill, and Mike Brandner feared the priest might have done something illicit to his brother when Scot — a former altar boy at St. Catherine — was a minor.
Las Vegas diocesan officials said they agreed that the letters — which Mike Brandner found after Scot took his own life at the age of 29 in 1993 — were concerning and suspended Highfill from public ministry pending an internal investigation.
On Friday, in their first public remarks about the Highfill case, leaders of the Nevada diocese said they turned over the results of the probe to police in Las Vegas as well as the Archdiocese of New Orleans.
The New Orleans archdiocese left Highfill off the first version of its credibly accused clergy list in early November 2018. Instead, at the end of that month, the archdiocese issued Highfill its own suspension from public ministry while it conducted its own investigation.
The New Orleans archdiocese also asked its counterpart in Las Vegas to omit Highfill from the initial credibly accused clergy list that the Nevada diocese released in April 2019. According to the Las Vegas diocese, the New Orleans archdiocese wanted time to complete its own investigation, saying the probe was more complicated than usual because the letters’ recipient couldn’t participate.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond has said advisers ultimately told them the letters Mike Brandner possessed weren’t “explicit enough” to establish that Scot had been sexually abused.
But then, this spring, a woman who met Scot through Highfill while she was growing up told the archdiocese in New Orleans that the priest had engaged in illicit behavior with her. She said Highfill — whom she met at St. Catherine — had sensually kissed her, given her full-body massages and sent her love letters as well, though she was older.
The Archdiocese of New Orleans investigated that woman’s version of events and on Wednesday added Highfill as the 64th name on its roster of credibly accused clergy.
That woman had also sought out and contacted Mike Brandner Sr. after reading a 2019 newspaper article about a lawsuit against Highfill from a third accuser which referenced Scot’s case. The suit in question alleges that Highfill drank heavily with the plaintiff in 1983 at a northern Louisiana Air Force base and began to initiate oral sex on the plaintiff after the accuser passed out.
Highfill denies the plaintiff’s claims. The lawsuit, along with dozens of others involving abuse claims against area clergy, were indefinitely halted after the New Orleans archdiocese filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections on May 1.
An archdiocesan spokesperson on Saturday had no comment on the Las Vegas diocese’s statement about Highfill.