James Brzyski, a defrocked Archdiocese of Philadelphia priest once described as one of the region’s most monstrous sexual predators, but who eluded prosecution after allegedly abusing dozens of boys in the 1970s and 1980s, was found dead Wednesday at a Texas motel.
Authorities confirmed they were investigating a man’s death at the Super 7 motel on Seminary Road in Fort Worth. They had not officially determined his identity or cause of death but said they did not suspect foul play.
One of Brzyski’s former neighbors told the Inquirer and Daily News she was contacted by police about his death, and a clerk at the motel confirmed that Bryzski had been staying there and that a housekeeper found him dead in his room Wednesday morning.
“James, right, he died today,” the clerk, Bhavesh Lad, said in a phone interview, before spelling Brzyski’s last name.
The former priest’s death came less than a month after the Inquirer and Daily News approached Brzyski for an interview at the Dallas apartment complex where he was living. Brzyski declined to talk.
He abruptly left his apartment on Sept. 1 and booked the first-floor motel room for one month, the clerk said. As proof of identity, he brandished a U.S. passport issued in Pennsylvania. He paid using a credit card.
Brzyski, 66, had been something of a nomad, with addresses across the country, since a lacerating 2005 Philadelphia grand jury report labeled the son of a police officer as among the most brutal abusers to wear a Catholic clerical collar in Philadelphia. Ordained in 1977, he allegedly raped or molested possibly more than 100 children, the grand jury asserted.
His alleged victims included boys as young as 10 during his only two assignments as a parish priest, at Saint John the Evangelist in Lower Makefield, which he joined in 1977, and St. Cecilia’s in the Fox Chase section of Northeast Philadelphia, where he became an associate pastor in 1981. The late Cardinal John Krol once described Brzyski’s conduct as that of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
But, like 62 other priests the grand jury said abused hundreds of children over decades in the five-county archdiocese, Brzyski was never criminally charged or prosecuted. After top archdiocesan officials learned about his assaults, Brzyski admitted to acts of sexual misconduct, and he was sent to a Catholic treatment center, where a top clinician said the priest manifested pedophilia.
Brzyski walked out on treatment, however, and refused to stay in ministry. Church officials chose not to report him to law enforcement and only told parishioners at St. Cecilia’s that he had left for medical reasons. The church further issued a policy instructing that no effort be made to locate victims from St. Cecilia’s, the grand jury found.
By the time prosecutors conducted their expansive probe of clergy abuse decades later, the statute of limitations had expired, barring the filing of criminal charges or any lawsuits against him or the church that had once overseen him.
Will Spade, a former member of the team of prosecutors who worked the grand jury probe, described news of Brzyski’s death as the end of “a very long period” of frustration.
“You could never prosecute the guy for the things that he had done because of the statute, and the difficulty of getting victims to come forward when they were young enough and in the statute,” said Spade, now in private practice. “You can’t come up with the proper words to describe how awful he was and how much damage he did.”
In the ensuing years, Brzyski appeared to roam the country. Public records — and occasional news clips about him — indicated stops in Virginia, Wisconsin, and eventually Texas.
Neighbors there said he had moved into his ground-floor apartment in Dallas about three years ago. Vivian Galbraith, whom Brzyski had considered a friend, said she received a Wednesday afternoon phone call from an investigator with the Medical Examiner’s Office, who wanted to know details about Brzyski’s background.
“I told him where he lived, his apartment, and I also told him that he filled out official paperwork to have his body donated to medical research,” Galbraith said in a phone interview.
Fort Worth homicide investigators on Wednesday said they did not believe foul play was involved. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office had not yet determined cause of death and did not expect to have official confirmation of the man’s identity until at least Thursday, said the agency’s administrative director, Ron Singer.
“There isn’t anything to suggest that someone else did this to him,” Detective Tom O’Brien said.
Though Brzyski was believed to have many victims, only a small handful ever spoke publicly of allegations against him. The most vocal to date, John Delaney, a St. Cecilia’s grade-school student in the 1980s, when years of alleged abuse began, was so shocked to hear the news he said he did not know “what I’m supposed to feel.”
“I’m going through a lot of emotions right now,” Delaney said. “This man tortured me for years and years.”
Delaney went public after release of the grand jury report. But he more recently began speaking out again about his plight, particularly as advocates fought in 2016 to change state law to allow past victims to sue for what happened to them as children. He said he had hoped the publicity had put pressure on the man who has tormented his thoughts for decades. Now, Brzyski was dead.
“I feel cheated,” he said, “I feel a little guilty.”