Lawsuit filed against former Delco priest

Daily Times, Delaware/May 10, 2011

Archbishop of Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali and other archdiocesan officials are being sued in connection with the alleged sexual abuse of a Philadelphia boy by a priest who formerly served in Delaware County. The alleged victim is now an adult who, according to the lawsuit, is mentally disabled because of the abuse.

Filed Monday in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas by the father of the alleged victim on behalf of his son, the lawsuit maintains that the Rev. Robert L. Brennan abused the plaintiff about 17 years ago when he was working in the rectory of Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in Philadelphia, where Brennan was parochial vicar from December 1993 to June 2004.

The name of the plaintiff, who is now 32 and living in Phoenix, Ariz., was withheld by his attorneys in the complaint because he was a minor when he was allegedly abused.

Also named in the lawsuit, which is seeking in excess of $50,000 for personal injury as a result of conspiracy to endanger children and fraud, are Brennan, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua who served as archbishop of Philadelphia from 1987 to 2003 and the Rev. Monsignor William Lynn, who, as secretary of the clergy under Bevilacqua, was responsible for investigating clerical sexual abuse.

Archdiocesan officials have declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Brennan, who was ordained in May 1964, was assistant pastor of St. Pius X Church in Marple from June 1964 to June 1970 and assistant pastor of St. George Church in Glenolden from June 1981 to June 1986. He was chaplain at Archbishop Prendergast High School in the Drexel Hill section of Upper Darby from January to June 1986 and associate director of the Catholic Youth Organization Mid-Delaware County region from June 1986 to June 1970.

The 73-year-old priest was suspended in September 2005 and, in August 2007, found by an archdiocesan review board to have sexually abused a minor in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Brennan, who denied the allegations, remains on administrative leave, restricted from performing priestly duties or dressing as priest and is living at a private residence. The lawsuit indicates he resides in Perryville, Md.

"Father Brennan is currently monitored by archdiocesan officials regularly," archdiocesan spokesman Kenneth Gavin said on Monday.

Attorneys in the lawsuit are Dan Monhan of Chester County and Marci Hamilton of Bucks County, who are working in conjunction with Jeff Anderson, an internationally known expert in sexual abuse litigation based in St. Paul, Minn.

The lawsuit maintains that archdiocesan officials received complaints about Brennan's inappropriate behavior with boys at least five years before he allegedly abused the plaintiff and was sent several times to St. John Vianney Center, a facility for the treatment of clerical behavioral disorders in Downingtown, Chester County.

According to the lawsuit, on July 22, 1992, Brennan was sent for another psychological evaluation at St. John Vianney Center where he entered sexual abuser treatment for 10 months and therapists determined he "presented a future risk of re-offending and sexually abusing other boys."

"Despite those dire warnings, Cardinal Bevilacqua appointed Father Brennan as the assistant pastor of Resurrection parish where Father Brennan sexually abused the plaintiff," said the lawsuit.

The lawsuit maintains that archdiocesan officials did not inform the Resurrection pastor of Brennan's history and that when the parish social minister repeatedly told the pastor about Brennan's inappropriate and sexual behavior with boys, the pastor told her to "shut up." On June 11, 1996, the Resurrection pastor reported several incidents of sexual inappropriateness by Brennan with boys to Lynn, who reportedly wrote in his meeting notes, "May want to move but maybe shouldn't" and "powder keg situation I believe."

The lawsuit maintains that had archdiocesan officials not misrepresented Brennan to parishioners or given him access to children, the plaintiff would not have had close physical and emotional contact with Brennan, who proceeded to sexually abuse him between 1993 and 1994.

Brennan was named in a 2005 Philadelphia grand jury report, launched by former Philadelphia district attorney Lynne Abraham, that revealed 63 priests allegedly abused children as far back as the 1940s, 43 of whom had ties with Delaware County. None could be criminally charged because Pennsylvania's statute of limitations had expired by the time civil authorities became aware of the alleged abuse. The statute was expanded by the state legislature in 2006.

Lynn was arrested on Feb. 10 for endangering the welfare of children as a result of a second grand jury investigation launched by District Attorney Seth Williams, that also resulted in the arrest of two priests, one former priest and a former Catholic school lay teacher for sexually assaulting two boys in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

All pleaded not guilty to the charges. Lynn, who has been suspended, is reportedly the highest ranking U.S. church official ever charged with child endangerment.

The grand jury report also resulted in the suspension of 26 more priests, including pastors of two Delaware County parishes and at least seven other priests with Delaware County ties.

An archdiocesan team headed by former Philadelphia assistant district attorney Gina Maisto Smith is reviewing complaints about the priests that range from sexual abuse of minors to what archdiocesan officials call "boundary issues."

"This is part of our continuing response to the grand jury report. It is an interim measure while a thorough investigation occurs," archdiocesan spokeswoman Donna Farrell said in March.

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