Attorney for priest accused of rape questions credibility of accuser

James Brennan
James Brennan (Jenny Swigoda)
Posted: March 14, 2011

The attorney for one of the Catholic priests charged last month with raping altar boys beginning in the 1990s has come out swinging against one of the boys, who the attorney said has multiple aliases, two criminal convictions and is in jail on theft charges.

Defense attorney Richard DeSipio, who represents priest James Brennan, 47, said that during a hearing scheduled for this morning he will vigorously argue that his client be granted a preliminary hearing so he can cross-examine his client's lone accuser, now 29.

"A witness must give legally competent evidence, and I don't think he can do that," he said. "Their witness is in prison in Bucks County for stealing his sister's credit card and using it. He's a convicted liar," DeSipio said.

Citing detailed evidence contained in a grand-jury report, the District Attorney's Office has asked Common Pleas Judge Renee Cardwell Hughes to bypass the preliminary-hearing step, when a judge hears evidence to determine whether a case should be held for trial.

The grand-jury report accuses Brennan of raping a then-14-year-old boy in the summer 1996 at Brennan's Chester County apartment. At the time, Brennan was on leave from Cardinal O'Hara High School in Springfield. In 1997 he was reassigned to St. Jerome Parish in the Northeast.

Also scheduled to be at today's hearing are priest Charles Engelhardt, 64, defrocked priest Edward Avery, 68, and former Catholic schoolteacher Bernard Shero, 48, all of whom are accused of raping a 10-year-old boy at St. Jerome between 1998 and 2000.

Msgr. William Lynn, 60, the former secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia under former Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, has also been charged with conspiracy and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the assaults.

Hughes, over the objections of defense attorneys, last month ruled that because of a voluminous grand-jury report, preliminary hearings could be bypassed in the cases of Kermit Gosnell and nine co-defendants, who are accused of operating an illegal abortion practice where a patient died and seven live babies allegedly were killed.

DeSipio said the case against Brennan is not complex like that against Gosnell. The allegations against Brennan involve one crime scene and one accuser, and that accuser has issues, DeSipio said.

Brennan's accuser was convicted of filing a false report in 2005 and forgery in 2006, according to DeSipio and court records.

He is in a Bucks County jail awaiting trial March 30 on the credit-card theft and forgery charges, according to the court records.

"Why does the commonwealth want to hide him? What are they afraid of?" DeSipio said.

"The last person they want the press to see at a preliminary hearing is [the accuser]. They want to hold a press conference and speak for him because they know damn well what he's going to say - that he was not raped," DeSipio added.

Tasha Jamerson, director of communications for the District Attorney's Office, declined to respond to DeSipio's allegations.

Other defense attorneys are also expected to requests that their clients be granted preliminary hearings.

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