By MARYCLAIRE DALE
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia prosecutors will drop rape charges against a suspended priest once named in more than 20 long-ago complaints because the recent accuser died this month of an overdose.
District Attorney Seth Williams announced the decision regarding the Rev. Robert L. Brennan with the family of accuser Sean McIlmail by his side.
“I would hope that we could have brought Father Brennan to justice. It appears now that the only justice he’ll have is in the afterlife,” Williams said at a news conference Wednesday.
Williams said there is not enough other evidence to go forward with the case, which was filed after the 26-year-old McIlmail contacted the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia this year.
An explosive 2005 Philadelphia grand jury report said that Brennan was repeatedly named in complaints about inappropriate behavior around children. He was suspended by the church, and moved to Perryville, Md.
Defense lawyer Trevan Borum said Brennan had hoped to clear his name at trial.
“I’m not only sorry that somebody lost his life, but that we didn’t have a chance to vindicate Father Brennan in court,” Borum said.
The accuser, a La Salle University graduate struggling with addiction, had said Brennan had molested him from about 1998 to 2001, starting when he was 11, at a northeast Philadelphia parish. The archdiocese contacted city prosecutors, who have aggressively pursued clergy abuse cases under Williams.
Brennan was arrested in September and spent several weeks in prison before his bail was reduced and he was released. He had been due in court for a preliminary hearing last Thursday, when he was expected to face his accuser.
McIlmail was found dead in his car on Sunday. He had been clean for seven months, and did not seem anxious about the hearing the previous Friday, family lawyer Marci Hamilton said. He had not yet testified before a grand jury.
“Everybody was just so happy about the progress he was making, and what a good frame of mind he was in,” she said.
He had been in and out of drug and alcohol treatment since graduating from college, and had not been able to hold down a job, Hamilton said. He was living with his parents near Philadelphia.
Two other men have filed civil suits alleging abuse by Brennan.
McIlmail’s mother and siblings appeared at the news conference with Williams, but did not speak. Prosecutors also displayed a picture of McIlmail with Brennan at age 14, and a recent one of him with his young nephews.
“When he decided to come forward, he told his family the reason he wanted to come forward now was for his two nephews,” Williams said. “He didn’t want any more innocent children to be the victim of child sexual abuse.”