Sean Patrick McIlmail kept his secret for 12 years as it chewed away at him and his close-knit family watched him descend into mental illness and drug abuse.
On Wednesday – four days after they buried the 26-year-old – his parents, brother and sister decided the time for secrets was over.
In an interview at the home of their lawyer, McIlmail’s parents, older brother and younger sister publicly confirmed that Sean was the person who accused former Philadelphia Catholic priest Robert L. Brennan of sexually molesting him over a four-year period beginning when he was 11 years old.
That prosecution by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office was called off Wednesday following McIlmail’s accidental death on Oct. 13 from a drug overdose.
District Attorney Seth Williams has set an afternoon news conference and is expected to announce that prosecutors were withdrawing charges against Brennan, 75, of Perrysville, Md.
Marci A. Hamilton, a lawyer for the family, said McIlmail was found dead in a car parked in Kensington, two days after he left his family’s Montgomery County home.
Now the McIlmails have come forward to urge other victims of the 75-year-old Brennan to contact authorities about prosecuting the priest.
Sean was to have testified at Brennan’s preliminary hearing last Thursday but his family said he was prepared and do not believe it had anything to do with his death.
“He wanted to testify,” said mother Deborah McIlmail, 57. “He really wanted to be there . . . He was moving ahead and he wanted to get over this.”
“We just hope that additional people will feel the need to come forward,” she added.
Two Philadelphia grand juries have described the Rev. Robert L. Brennan as a serial sexual predator who molested more than a score of boys as he was transferred from one parish to another over 15 years.
But until last month, after Sean McIlmail agreed to press charges, all the allegations against Brennan were too old to prosecute.
After his death was announced last Thursday – but not his name – Williams praised McIlmail’s courage in coming forward to press the charges against Brennan.
“The decades long demons and scars the victim in this case endured ended this weekend when he was found dead by Philadelphia police detectives,” Williams said. “This young man’s courage should serve as an inspiration to us all.”
Deborah McIlmail said her son first told them about being sexually molested by Brennan at their old parish, Resurrection of Our Lord parish at Castor Avenue and Vista Street in Rhawnhurst, last October after he went into therapy. For the first time, she said, the earlier signs of emotional and behavioral problems made sense.
Over the last few weeks, she said, Sean seemed more committed than ever to make sure what happened to him happened to no other children and he referred to his brother’s two young sons.
“He said he was doing this for Liam and Braden,” McIlmail said.
The McIlMails described themselves as “devout Irish Catholics” but they no longer attend church and say they won’t until the legacy of the abuse of children by priests is dealt with by church officials.
Deborah McIlMail recalled Sean talking to her husband, Michael, recently.
“He said, ‘Dad, he took my innocence from me before I even knew what innocence was.'”