Witness details clerical terror

In testimony, claims sex-abusing priest 'kept pulling me forward'

Posted: April 05, 2012

DURING THREE hours of emotional and sometimes contentious testimony, a former Bucks County altar boy on Wednesday described how a priest in the landmark child-sex-abuse and conspiracy trial molested him during an overnight visit when he was 14.

The man, now 30, broke down several times recounting a 1996 assault by the Rev. James J. Brennan that he said plunged him into a spiral of drugs and crime and still haunts him.

He said Brennan, his onetime parish priest and a longtime family friend, showed him online sex-chat rooms, proposed that they masturbate and ordered him into a bed where, clad in plaid boxer shorts, the cleric pulled him close and pressed his private parts against the boy.

"He kept pulling me forward, forward, forward," the witness said, fighting tears. "I couldn't get off the bed. I still feel the sensation today. It's horrible."

The testimony didn't stand unchallenged.

The priest's lawyer, William Brennan, who is of no relation to his client, repeatedly prodded the accuser to explain inconsistencies in accounts he gave authorities over the years, reminded jurors about his convictions, and highlighted a lawsuit he filed that demands money from the church.

Wearied after two hours of cross-examination, the witness, whose name is being withheld because of the nature of his allegations, pleaded with Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to break for the day. "I can't do any more," he said.

With the lawyers' consent, she halted the proceedings.

The developments were the most dramatic - and likely the most significant - since the trial began last week for Brennan and Monsignor William J. Lynn, the former secretary for clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

A nearly packed courtroom listened as the man outlined the details of an alleged assault that he said pushed him to the brink of suicide, and then watched as the lawyers parsed his words, drew anatomical sketches for jurors and quibbled over the definition of "spooning" in bed.

The jury had already heard from four other alleged abuse victims, but each had described being molested decades ago by priests who have been defrocked, died or haven't been charged in the case.

Unlike those claims, the Bucks County man's allegation fell within a newly amended criminal statute of limitations for child-sex crimes and became a cornerstone of the February 2011 grand-jury report that led to the trial against Lynn and Brennan.

Prosecutors say Lynn, as the official who recommended archdiocesan priests' assignments and investigated their misconduct, enabled or covered up abuse by failing to act against priests suspected or known to abuse children. One such priest, they say, was Brennan, who has been on restricted ministry since the accusation emerged in 2006.

He and Lynn have denied any wrongdoing. A third defendant, defrocked priest Edward Avery, pleaded guilty to related charges before trial.

Contact John P. Martin at 215-854-4774 or jmartin@phillynews.com. Follow him @JPMartinInky on Twitter.

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