The oft-delayed retrial of Rev. James J. Brennan for allegedly sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy has been delayed once again – this time by Traffic Court.
No, Father Brennan did not run afoul of the law while driving. His lawyer, William J. Brennan Jr., however, remains tied up in federal court defending former Traffic Court Judge Willie Singletary in the ticket-fixing trial of six former Traffic Court judges and a Philadelphia businessman.
On Monday, which was supposed to be the start of jury selection in Brennan’s retrial, the priest sat alone in the rear of the courtroom waiting to get a subpoena for a new court date while the staff of Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Edward C. Wright communicated with his lawyer by phone during a break in the federal trial.
Wright set Feb. 9 for a status hearing on Brennan’s case and to deal with any pretrial motions. Trial is to begin Feb. 11.
Brennan, 50, was one of four Roman Catholic clergy and a parochial school teacher arrested in February 2011 following a Philadelphia County grand jury investigation of how the Archdiocese of Philadelphia handled allegations that some of its priests had sexually molested young boys.
By the time Brennan and Msgr. William J. Lynn went to trial in March of 2012, one of the priests had pleaded guilty and a judge had ruled that another priest and the teacher should be tried separately. Three months later, after 12-1/2 days of deliberations, the Common Pleas Court jury found Lynn, 63, guilty of child endangerment involving his role as secretary for clergy from 1992 to 2004 – the Archdiocesan official responsible for investigating complaints against priests and recommending action to the archbishop. The jury, however, said it was unable to reach a verdict in the charges against Brennan, resulting in a mistrial.
Lynn’s conviction was a landmark – the first church official found guilty for a supervisory role over deviant priests – and in July 2012 Lynn was sent to prison to begin serving 3 to 6 years in prison. But on Dec. 26, a three-judge panel of the state Superior Court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial. Lynn was released in January and is living under house arrest while the District Attorney’s office challenges the Superior Court ruling in the state Supreme Court.
Brennan’s case was almost lost in the controversy about Lynn. The District Attorney’s office announced its intention to retry Brennan in July 2012. A new trial was set for March 6, 2013 but continued to Oct. 21, 2013 and then delayed again to June 16 and to June 23. By that time, lawyer Brennan – not related to his client – was two weeks into the federal Traffic Court trial.
Father Brennan is charged with attempted rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, child endangerment, indecent assault and corruption of a minor. A former faculty member at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield, Delaware County, Brennan was on leave of absence in 1996 when he allegedly raped a 14-year-old at his apartment. Brennan allegedly met and befriended the boy and his family years earlier when he was assigned to their parish in Newtown, Bucks County.
Brennan has rejected guilty plea offers from the prosecutor’s office and has maintained his innocence.