In court, priest’s lawyer suggests witness was jealous

Rev. James Brennan (right) arrives at the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday, April 4, 2012. He heard testimony from man accusing him of allegedly raping him as a young teen. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)
Rev. James Brennan (right) arrives at the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia on Wednesday, April 4, 2012. He heard testimony from man accusing him of allegedly raping him as a young teen. (Alejandro A. Alvarez / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 05, 2012

For a second day, the lawyer for an Archdiocese of Philadelphia priest battled Thursday with a man who claimed the priest molested him when he was 14, once suggesting the accuser concocted the allegation because his mother had been spending so much time with the cleric.

"What better way to get the subject of her attention out of your life than to come up with a story?" said the attorney, William Brennan.

The question came amid a tense cross-examination as the lawyer sought to expose cracks, not just in the allegation but in the landmark abuse and endangerment case against his client, the Rev. James J. Brennan (no relation), and a former archdiocesan official, Msgr. William J. Lynn.

As he did when the interrogation started a day earlier, the witness pushed back.

In tones alternately angry and exasperated, the Bucks County man, 30, called the lawyer's reasoning "pathetic" and unprofessional. He accused William Brennan of quibbling over irrelevant details, and insisted he had never wavered on the ones that matter - that Brennan forced him into bed, wrapped his arms around him, and tried to rape him.

"None of that has changed, and it never will change - and it will be with me until the day I die because it's true," he said. Pointing to the priest, he added: "That man molested me, and he knows it. He knows it. He knows it. He knows it."

The testimony was among the most jarring and significant since the trial began March 26. His claim is one of just two against priests that were reported within the statute of limitations and that became pillars of the most recent grand jury investigation into how the archdiocese handled clergy sex-abuse cases.

Prosecutors say Lynn, the secretary for clergy, who recommended priests' assignments and investigated their misconduct between 1992 and 2004, enabled abuse by failing to act against priests, including Brennan, who he suspected or knew would assault children.

The Bucks County accuser, a former altar boy and Marine, had been identified in court papers and at the trial, but The Inquirer does not publish the names of alleged victims of sex crimes without their permission. A grand jury report called him "Mark."

On Wednesday, Mark told jurors that the priest became a close family friend about two decades ago when Brennan was an assistant at St. Andrew Church in Newtown, Bucks County. The witness said that he told his parents about the alleged assault at Brennan's apartment in 1996, but that the priest assured them it was a misunderstanding that would not happen again.

Under questioning from Assistant District Attorney Mark Cipolletti, the man said the abuse plunged him into a decade of substance addiction, crime, and mental-health trauma. Three times, he said, he tried to kill himself.

His cross-examination had abruptly ended Wednesday afternoon when Mark, his voice cracking, told Judge M. Teresa Sarmina he was too tired and upset to continue.

When they resumed their courtroom spots Thursday, Mark and the defense lawyer were almost friendly.

"Feeling a little better today?" William Brennan asked.

"Much better," the witness replied.

The pleasantries quickly melted away.

At one point during questioning, Mark appeared to mutter "you're a liar" under his breath, but said he was not referring to the lawyer. At another point, Brennan accused him of mouthing an expletive, but he denied it.

More than once, the judge played referee. "Be quiet, sir - you are not here to battle with the attorney," the judge scolded the witness.

Throughout the testimony, the priest sat passively at the defense table, sometimes staring down at papers as his accuser glared at him.

In court papers, the defense attorneys called Mark "a serial confabulator" who made up the allegation to excuse years of drug use and a criminal record that includes theft, receiving stolen property, and making false reports.

William Brennan also pointed out that the Bucks County man filed a lawsuit last year seeking "a big payout" from the archdiocese.

As much as anything, the lawyer tried to attack Mark's credibility. He noted that the accuser told jurors the priest had victimized him a second time, when he exposed himself to the teen in 1999, but that Mark had not made such a claim when he testified before a canonical trial in 2008 and the grand jury in 2010.

"Are you saying your memory improves with age?" Brennan asked.

"Positively," the witness replied. He said years of therapy, prayer, and sobriety had helped him recover details he once repressed.

More than once, Mark accused the lawyer of harping on insignificant discrepancies - like his conflicting testimony over whether the priest used a laptop or desktop computer to access pornography before allegedly assaulting him - in an effort to rattle him or distract jurors.

"Listen, maybe I was mistaken, but I wasn't lying," Mark said. "We're talking about trivial things here. This man's life is on the line, and we're talking about computers."

Though his testimony ended, jurors are likely to hear more about the incident. William Brennan told the judge he intended to call Mark's mother to the stand.

Later in the day, a Montgomery County native, 42, testified that he had been molested by his parish priest, the Rev. Francis Trauger, in the early 1980s.

A onetime altar boy at St. Titus Church in East Norriton, the man testified that he was 12 when Trauger took him to St. Charles Borromeo Seminary to play basketball, but ended up fondling him in the showers.

Months later, he said, the priest took him to the Poconos, ostensibly to go skiing.

They spent the night in a motel room, he said, where Trauger proposed they sleep together so housekeepers would have to make up only one bed the next day. Then the priest cranked up the room heater and proposed they sleep naked, he said.

The man said the priest assaulted him for hours. He recalled staring at the heavy curtains, hoping to see the first ray of sunlight, a sign he could go home.

His parents later asked if the priest had abused him, but he denied it, he said, and told no one until an archdiocese investigator approached him 20 years later.

Trauger has since been defrocked.

Now a police detective, the witness told jurors that early in his career, he investigated child sex crimes.

"One of the reasons it was difficult when you were talking to the kids was [that] not everyone believed them," he said, choking up. "And it was difficult to see that."

The trial resumes Monday.


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

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