The family of a suburban Philadelphia man who died last month of an
accidental drug overdose has filed a wrongful death complaint against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Catholic priest who was accused of sexually abusing the young man when he was a school student.
Lawyers representing Deborah McIlmail, of Willow Grove, Montgomery County, filed suit in Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court on Wednesday against the archdiocese, Monsignor William Lynn and Father Robert Brennan over the Oct. 13 death of Sean Patrick McIlmail.
Brennan, who has since retired from the priesthood and currently resides in Perryville, Md., is accused of sexually molesting Sean McIlmail, along with other youths, while he served as assistant pastor at Resurrection Parish in Northeast Philadelphia during the early 1990s.
The lawsuit alleges that Brennan had been assigned to the parish despite warnings from mental health officials that the man “presented a future risk of reoffending and sexually abusing other boys.”
One therapist even stated that the defendant has “very serious problems which might predispose the Archdiocese to major scandal and litigation in the future,” the complaint says.
“After being assigned to Resurrection Parish, Brennan operated without restriction, so [he] had full access to and opportunity to sexually abuse the Plaintiffs’ decedent and other children,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit alleges that no one from the archdiocese told the parish’s pastor about Brennan’s known history of inappropriate conduct with children, which is documented extensively in the civil action.
Brennan was also never ordered to keep away from juveniles during his time at Resurrection Parish, the suit says, and nobody from the archdiocese asked the pastor to supervise Brennan or to report any suspicious behavior by the priest.
McIlmail’s story became public this fall after it was reported that he had come forward and was willing to be a witness in a criminal case against Brennan.
Local media reported that the criminal case against Brennan fell apart after McIlmail, the only witness to the priest’s alleged crimes, died from a drug overdose.
Late last month, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office announced that it had dropped criminal sex abuse charges against Brennan because of the lack of evidence in the case.
“In many cases of sexual assault whether they be victims or adults or children, really the testimony of that victim is paramount to getting a conviction,” District Attorney Seth Williams told NBC 10, the local Philadelphia affiliate, on Oct. 23.
Williams had simultaneously issued words of praise for the late McIlmail, who had been determined to testify against Brennan at trial.
In the civil suit, McIlmail’s family accuses the archdiocese and Lynn of being aware of Brennan’s past history of sexually abusing children, but not doing enough to keep him away from youths.
Brennan, who was ordained in 1964, and is currently 75 years old, had been sent to Saint John Vianney Hospital to consult with mental health professionals in the winter of 1988 because of apparent tendencies toward pedophilia, the lawsuit notes.
Lynn and the archdiocese “publicly misrepresented” the assignment as Brennan being on a “retreat,” the complaint says.
Former Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua further directed that “in all cases involving sexual abuse, parishioners were not to be told the true reason for removal,” specifically referring to Brennan’s assignment for a mental health evaluation, the suit states.
Cardinal Justin Rigali, Bevilacqua’s successor as Philadelphia’s archbishop, continued the practice of misinformation, since “anything other than a practice of deliberate misrepresentation would interfere with sexual abuse of minors, and sexual abuse of minors was an acceptable cost of protecting the Defendants from scandal,’” the lawsuit reads.
Brennan was eventually appointed assistant pastor at Resurrection Parish in the city’s Rhawnhurst section in mid-December 1993. He remained there until the summer of 2004.
From June 2004 to August 2007, the record shows, Brennan served as chaplain at a home for retired nuns in Chester County, after which the archdiocese removed Brennan from performing any priestly duties.
While he was at Resurrection Parish, Brennan was said to have engaged in inappropriate and sexual behavior with adolescent boys, including McIlmail, the lawsuit states.
The parish’s social minister reported the allegations, but the woman was told to “shut up,” and she was later removed from her post because of the complaints, the complaint alleges.
The parish’s pastor was also subsequently removed from his duties.
“The Defendants protected Brennan in his position so as to facilitate his sexual abuse of children, including the Plaintiffs’ decedent,” the suit reads.
The plaintiffs claim that they were never warned of Brennan’s sexual proclivities at the time they enrolled McIlmail at the Resurrection school, the lawsuit states.
Brennan and the young boy soon developed a relationship, the complaint says, although the extent of the relationship was not initially known to the child’s parents.
McIlmail’s parents had viewed Brennan as a trusted mentor and priest.
The alleged sexual abuse began in 1988.
“As a result of the actions of the Defendants, Brennan was able to enjoy unsupervised access to the Plaintiffs’ decedent after this appointment by Bevilacqua and the collective concealment by Defendants of Brennan’s known risk to children,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiffs’ decedent’s sexual abuse by Brennan was an acceptable cost to maintain secrecy about Brennan’s sexual misconduct.”
In June 1996, the complaint states, Resurrection’s then-pastor reported to Lynn, the monsignor, a number of incidents of “sexual inappropriateness” by Brennan, including an alleged incident in which Brennan was seen on top of a boy in the sacristy.
Other alleged incidents that were reported involved Brennan wrestling with boys and taking boys on trips in his car.
“Despite these reports and all of Brennan’s known history, Cardinal Bevilacqua allowed Brennan to remain at Resurrection Parish with no restrictions on his ministry, consistent with the secrecy practiced by Defendants for all matters related to sexual abuse of children,” the suit states.
Lynn, 62, who served as secretary of clergy for the archdiocese, is currently serving out a three-to-six-year state prison sentence for his conviction last year on child endangerment charges.
He became known as the first Catholic Church official in the country to be incarcerated for such crimes.
The lawsuit says that Lynn did more than “passively allow the molesters to remain in positions where they could continue to prey on children.
“When victims complained or scandal threatened, Msgr. Lynn recommended that the abuser be transferred to a new parish, where the unsuspecting faithful would not know to be wary and vigilant, and where the abusive clergymen could go on exploiting their positions of trust and authority to pursue criminal activity by repeating the abusive acts which caused them to be moved by Lynn,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit contains counts of wrongful death and survival action.
McIlmail’s mother, Deborah McIlmail, is being represented by Pennsylvania attorneys Daniel F. Monahan and Marci A. Hamilton and Minnesota attorney Jeffrey R. Anderson.
The plaintiff seeks more than $50,000 in damages relating to pain and suffering, lost earnings, loss of retirement and Social Security income, other financial losses, and loss of life’s enjoyment.
The case ID number is 131101114.