PHILADELPHIA – A woman whose son gave emotional testimony about his alleged abuse at the hands of a Roman Catholic priest took the stand herself Wednesday at a landmark trial in the priest abuse scandal and said she regrets maintaining contact with the priest for years afterward.
The woman said the Rev. James Brennan was like a brother to her, a confidant and spiritual adviser at a vulnerable time when she was caring for her terminally ill mother and raising three young children, so she remained friendly with him even after her son told her "something weird" happened on an overnight trip with the priest.
"Regrettably, I did not," she replied Wednesday when asked if she cut ties with Brennan after the alleged 1996 molestation, "and I'll never forgive myself for it."
Brennan is on trial with Monsignor William Lynn, the first Roman Catholic official in the U.S. charged with endangering children for allegedly shifting priests suspected of molestation from parish to parish without warning anyone of prior sex-abuse complaints. Both have pleaded not guilty.
The Associated Press is not naming the woman because doing so would identify her son, who is an alleged sex abuse victim. The AP generally doesn't name accusers in abuse cases.
The woman said she remained friendly with Brennan after he left their parish, St. Andrew in the Philadelphia suburb of Newtown, and last spoke with him in 2005 at a time when her family was having financial troubles and her son was "not doing well." Brennan asked what was going on the young man.
"'It always comes back to you. It always comes back to you, Jim,'" she said she replied. "And that's the last time I ever talked to him."
The accuser, now 30, testified last week that he was molested at age 14 by Brennan and the trauma led to drug addition, mental illness, crime and suicide attempts. He is the only accuser at the trial so far whose allegations fall within the statute of limitations for bringing charges.
The woman said after her son "closed down" when asked what allegedly happened between himself and Brennan, saying only that they slept in a bed together. She and her husband met with Brennan at a hotel to discuss what happened but the priest was short on specifics too.
"He said something inappropriate happened and it will never happen again," she said. "It was a stalemate, nothing more was said and the meeting ended."
Defense attorney Bill Brennan, no relation to his client, suggested that what happened was her son wanted to look at pornography online at the priest's apartment and he wanted the boy to tell his parents. Bill Brennan also asked the woman about financial assistance she received from the archdiocese since her son's abuse complaint and told the jury that she and her husband had filed for bankruptcy in 2005.
Prosecutors presented evidence earlier Wednesday that a priest facing complaints of abuse was transferred at least eight times, each without a warning to the parish.
The priest, the Rev. Francis Trauger, had denied allegations of abuse for decades before admitting what he did, according to a document in the church's secret archives from before he was defrocked in 2005. Trauger told an archdiocesan investigator that he never suspected that abuse of children by clergy was widespread until the priest abuse scandal broke in Boston a few years earlier and spread elsewhere.
"He thought he was the only priest involved in this type of behavior," the investigator wrote. "After the abuses in Boston and beyond surfaced, Trauger realized he was part of a worldwide problem."
Trauger is not a defendant but his case and others are being used by prosecutors in their case against Lynn, a high-ranking archdiocesan official who was entrusted with investigating abuse complaints against priests.
His attorneys insist that Lynn tried to oust predator priests but his efforts were hindered by his superiors, including then-Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who died this year. They also contend that many of the cases being presented by the district attorney's office took place years before Lynn had the job, which he held from 1992 to 2004.
Also taking the stand Wednesday was Bishop Robert Maginnis, who was asked by prosecutors about a priest under his purview as suburban Montgomery County's vicar in 1996. That priest was the Rev. Edward DePaoli, who was defrocked in 2005 after decades of complaints.
Maginnis testified that he didn't remember specifics of a nun's complaints about DePaoli in 1996. In letters to other church officials at the time, however, he suggested the sister was trying to "stir up some conflict" and "cast doubt on Father DePaoli's credibility." The nun was fired from her job at the school after she reported her concerns to Bevilacqua.