09 May 2012
By John P. Martin and Joseph A. Slobodzian
Inquirer Staff Writers
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s file on the Rev. James J. Brennan had dozens of documents bluntly detailing what the archbishop, nuns, pastors, and even Brennan himself thought of his strengths, flaws, and potential.
Missing from those records were words like sex abuse, molestation, and accusation, a detective acknowledged Wednesday.
“Those words are not used, no,” James Dougherty, an investigator for the District Attorney’s Office, told jurors at the landmark trial of Brennan and Msgr. William J. Lynn.
Brennan’s lawyer, Richard J. Fuschino, used that omission to underscore a theme of his defense: that no one reported any evidence of misconduct before or after prosecutors say the priest tried to rape a 14-year-old boy in 1996; and that, despite widespread publicity about that allegation, no other accusers have come forward, bucking a pattern prosecutors have suggested is common among sexually abusive priests.
Lynn faces endangerment charges for allegedly failing to properly investigate abuse claims or letting suspect priests, including Brennan, keep posts that gave them access to children.
Church records shown to jurors indicate that Lynn, as the archdiocese’s secretary for clergy, heard rumors or complaints in the mid-1990s that Brennan may been living with a former student from Cardinal O’Hara High School.
Lynn did not pursue the rumors and told Brennan to ignore the gossip.
Questions about that past relationship keep popping up at the trial. Thomas O’Brien, a former guidance director at O’Hara, testified that he once lectured the priest after catching him inappropriately “wrestling” with the teenager alone in a school office. O’Brien said he did not interpret the contact as sexual.
Nuns who lived at the same church-owned complex as Brennan said he had described his young boarder as a cousin or nephew, but years later admitted to an archdiocesan investigator the two were not related. That former student has not testified, but the man who says Brennan tried to rape him has.
He said his assault occurred when Brennan was on a leave of absence from the archdiocese to address what one memo described as his “inner turmoil” and issues related to his own abuse as a child. Brennan never detailed the turmoil; prosecutors have suggested a tie to his sexual desires and conduct.
For most of Wednesday, Brennan’s lawyer and the detective engaged in a verbal tug-of-war over what the records said and what they meant.
Fuschino said Brennan was ruminating in abstractions when he wrote in his journal about a “primordial struggle being lived out in a tormented state of unbridled passion.” He also pointed to the detective to an April 1997 memo in which Lynn says Brennan concluded that he had needed his leave of absence to deal with “a real crisis of faith.”
Dougherty said he saw something more in the priest’s words. “I would say it’s written by somebody who is being tormented about something,” he said.
He also refused to bend to Fuschino’s suggestion that Brennan’s psychotherapy was unrelated to sex issues because he was never sent to St. John Vianney, the Downingtown treatment center where the archdiocese routinely sent accused priests for evaluation.
“What he was being treated for specifically, we don’t know right now,” Dougherty said, saying Brennan’s therapist was affiliated with the center.
Also on Wednesday, Common Pleas Court Judge M. Teresa Sarmina approved prosecutors’ request to take testimony next week from two Discalced Carmelite nuns at a Philadelphia monastery.
The nuns ran the convent when Lynn recommended the Rev. Stanley Gana be transferred there as chaplain in the late 1990s, after Gana had been accused of sexually assaulting teenage boys. Prosecutors say that Lynn lied to one of Gana’s victims when he said that the nuns would supervise Gana and that the statement reflected a long-standing practice of protecting abusive clergy.
“He lied to everybody but the mice in that [archdiocese] building in order to achieve his goal, which was to keep those priests out there,” Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington said.
Lynn’s lawyer, Jeffrey Lindy, said that the nuns’ testimony was irrelevant and that Lynn’s statements to the victim were accurate. “These are not lies,” he said.
Contact John P. Martin at 215-854-4774 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @JPMartinInky on Twitter.