Bayonne, New Jersey
Monday, December 13, 2010
By MATT FRIEDMAN
and TED SHERMAN
TRENTON – It was another day of endless hearings in Trenton on Thursday.
Then a 48-year-old man leaned into a microphone at the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was taking testimony on a proposed bill that would do away with a two-year statute of limitations on lawsuits alleging child sex abuse.
“My story began in 1976, St. Paul’s Church in the Greenville section of Jersey City,” said Keith Brennan.
Speaking about his experiences publicly for the first time, Brennan, of Bayonne, recalled four years of sexual abuse by church staff, starting with Keith Pecklers, the church’s young music director. Brennan said he was 14 at the time and that Pecklers was about three-and-a-half years his senior.
After about a year of the abuse by Pecklers, Brennan said, he reported it to the church deacon, Thomas Stanford, who then took over abusing Brennan, plying him with drugs and alcohol before abusing him repeatedly over the course of three years.
“Thirty-four years have gone by but I have not forgotten a single day, a single detail of my abuse,” said Brennan.
Pecklers, who became a priest, is now a prominent Jesuit scholar. A professor of liturgy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, he has written, contributed to or edited nine books, according to his Facebook page, and is a frequent commentator on Vatican affairs for American media outlets – including the sex abuse scandals.
Reached by phone in Italy, Pecklers would not say whether he ever had sexual contact with Brennan, but said actual abuse could not have taken place because he, Pecklers, was not an adult at the time.
“In the 1970s, I was a student – I was a minor myself – so it would be impossible to be accused of that type of thing. I was 17 years old, so that’s the end of the story,” said Pecklers.
Brennan said in a later interview with the Star-Ledger that Pecklers began molesting him against his will about a month before Pecklers turned 18, and continued well past his birthday.
Stanford could not be reached for comment.
In 2008 – after decades of suffering from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, self-mutilation, an eating disorder and the fear that his abusers may have given him AIDS – Brennan said he contacted attorney Stephen Rubino, an expert on child sexual abuse cases.
Rubino forwarded Brennan’s accusations to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, along with a DVD of Brennan and his family describing how the abuse had harmed him. Within weeks, the archdiocese entered into mediation with Brennan and eventually settled for an undisclosed six-figure sum, Brennan said.