The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office may have been legally unable to pursue further prosecution of a Catholic priest accused of sexual abuse, but that won’t stop a wrongful death civil suit from being leveled against him.
On Wednesday, Philadelphia attorneys Marci Hamilton, Daniel Monahan and Jeff Anderson announced they were taking civil action against former Catholic priest Robert Brennan, Monsignor William Lynn and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The civil suit is on behalf of Sean McIlmail, who died of an accidental drug overdose on Oct. 13, 2013 at age 26 and accused Brennan of sexually abusing him when he was a child. McIlmail claimed Brennan abused him for years, beginning at age 11 in 1998. The District Attorney’s Office had planned to prosecute Brennan, but had to drop the charges against Brennan after McIllmail’s death.
The complaint alleges that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, and Msgr. William Lynn knew of numerous child sexual abuse allegations against Brennan at least ten years before Brennan sexually abused McIlmail. Brennan was sent for evaluation several times after which the Archdiocese and its representatives allegedly covered-up the accusations about Brennan’s extreme risk to children and placed him back in ministry.
According to attorneys, whistleblowers came forward complaining about Brennan’s inappropriate behavior with children going back as far as 1988 but the complaints were ignored. Over time Brennan was reassigned to several parishes including St. Mary’s Parish in Schwenksville, Pa., St. Ignatius Parish in Yardley, and Resurrection Parish in Rhawnhurst, among others.
“Sean suffered debilitating shame and humiliation as a result of Brennan’s abuse of him and struggled for years to deal with the abuse,” said attorney Marci Hamilton. “His family did everything they possibly could to support him and he made dramatic strides over the last year. They are devastated that he lost his battle with drug addiction, which was caused by the extreme stress of dealing with the abuse and the callous cover-up by his home archdiocese. Sean’s story is the horrific story of too many child sex abuse victims. It is time to bring the institutions that create the conditions for abuse to justice and to force out the full truth so that we can turn the tide on America’s epidemic of child sex abuse and the institutions that let it happen. Legal justice is what Sean wanted and what he deserves.”
According to the original 2005 Grand Jury report in which Brennan was named, sexually abusive priests were either left quietly where they were assigned or transferred to unsuspecting parishes. When Brennan was removed from an assignment in 1992 because of the allegations against him, a parishioner remembered being told to pray for Brennan, who was supposedly being treated for Lyme disease. No mention of the accusations was ever mentioned.
“As with all of the other cases we have filed against the Philadelphia Archdiocese, the abuse in this case should never have happened,” said attorney Daniel Monahan. “Sean was only 2-years-old when the Archdiocese first learned about Brennan’s inappropriate acts with children. Had they done the right thing then, Sean would be with us here today and he might have had the family he dreamed about. Instead the McIllmail family has had to suffer the worst tragedy and parent can suffer the loss of a child because of the callous failures of the Archdiocese.”
Despite continuing accusations against Brennan wherever the Church reassigned him, no restrictions on his access to children was ever implemented, the grand jury report said. Not only that, none of his associates at the various parishes was ever informed of the sexual abuse allegations. In fact, those who complained about him were removed. The report went on to say that Cardinal Bevilacqua allowed Brennan to remain at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish with no restrictions on his ministry or his access to children. Father Thomas C. Scanlon and Marie McGuirl, who complained to the Archdiocese about Brennan’s misconduct with boys, however, were removed. The pastor appointed by Cardinal Bevilacqua to replace Fr. Scanlon, Fr. Michael J. Ryan, told the Grand Jury that he was told nothing about Fr. Brennan’s history. The new pastor further said as a result, he permitted Fr. Brennan full access to the parish youth.
“Sean courageously came forward and started the journey to hold Brennan and top Archdiocesan officials accountable and to help protect other children by reporting Brennan to law enforcement. This lawsuit is a continuation of those efforts and from the unspeakable horror we will continue to fight for truth and justice in Sean’s memory,” said attorney Jeff Anderson.