A defense attorney for accused priest James J. Brennan spent much of his cross-examination Monday of a canonical judge questioning the process used to try priests under church law as well as the era of quick judgment within the Roman Catholic Church after its bishops adopted in 2002 new guidelines for dealing with criminal behavior by priests.
Many of the attorney’s one-liners espousing the unfairness of the process to his client were met with objections from the prosecution that were always sustained by Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, but not of course before they were heard by the jury.
Defense attorney William Brennan, who is of no relation to his client, was cross-examining Monsignor Kevin M. Quirk, a West Virginia judicial vicar who was ordered by a West Virginia judge last month to comply with a subpoena for his testimony in the ongoing Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex-abuse trial.
Quirk, who has a doctorate in canonical law, was the presiding judge of defendant James Brennan’s 2008 canonical trial for allegations that James Brennan abused a 14-year-old boy in 1996. Quirk was called to the stand Monday to read into evidence his questioning of James Brennan at the canonical trial.
As the presiding judge, all questions asked of the witnesses were done through Quirk. James Brennan had a priest advocate present and there was also a promoter of justice who is responsible for overseeing the canonical trial and the gathering of evidence. If either of those two men had questions of the witnesses, they would be asked through Quirk. All witnesses testify prior to the accused testifying, Quirk said of canonical trials.
William Brennan asked Quirk why all witnesses except for the accused were sworn in at a canonical trial. Quirk said canonical law prohibits swearing in the accused so as not to force the accused to make a “manifestation of conscience.”
Quirk said during the prosecution’s rebuttal that the idea there is to not force the accused to admit crimes or sins.
“He didn’t have to accuse himself because he’s already accused by the church. That’s why he’s ‘the accused,’” William Brennan bellowed as his final thought after the rebuttal, drawing a quick objection.
A group of Catholic bishops met in Dallas in 2002 after reports of sexual abuse in the Boston Archdiocese went public. William Brennan asked Quirk on Monday whether things got harsher for priests accused after that Dallas conference and its ensuing guidelines for handling abuse allegations were put into place. James Brennan was accused of the 1996 abuse in 2006. William Brennan said the trial has pointed out examples of priests from the 1940s through the 1990s who had multiple victims and nothing was done to them.
“[James] Brennan gets one accuser who backs off [part of the accusation] and he’s on trial, right?” Brennan asked Quirk, who didn’t have a chance to answer when prosecutor Jacqueline Coelho objected.
William Brennan tried again a few minutes later when he was asking whether James Brennan was held to tougher standards than the pre-Dallas era because he was given only two days to leave his parish upon the allegations being raised. Another objection followed.
William Brennan then asked whether it was a fair statement that after the Dallas conference, people don’t hear about priests “prowling around for 20 years” because when there is an allegation a priest is “out.”
After another objection, William Brennan moved on to try to show the jury that no other allegations were raised against his client aside from the one boy. Brennan said Quirk’s testimony from the canonical trial showed the church sent letters to students who went to the high school where James Brennan served, went to the news and all but sent up “smoke signals” about the allegations, soliciting any information from others who may have been abused by James Brennan. He said no other victims came forward, to which there was an objection before Quirk could confirm or deny that statement.
James Brennan’s canonical trial dealt with allegations that arose in 2006 when a family that James Brennan became close to over the years accused him of abusing their son, M.B., on two instances in 1996. James Brennan’s accuser M.B. is not to be confused with the M.B. The Legal reported about in mid-April who testified about his alleged abuse at the hands of another former priest, Stanley Gana. The Legal is not naming the alleged victims.
M.B. alleged that he was sexually abused at James Brennan’s home during an overnight stay in which the two stayed in the same bed and again on church grounds when M.B. was doing community service, according to testimony Monday.
The findings of James Brennan’s canonical trial were never revealed during Quirk’s testimony to the criminal jury Monday, though The Legal has previously reported he was cleared by the church of M.B.’s allegations.
During James Brennan’s canonical trial, according to Quirk, Brennan said M.B.’s parents confronted him in 1996 about what happened at the sleepover and he told them nothing occurred. He admitted, according to the canonical testimony, that he begrudgingly allowed M.B. to look at Internet porn while staying at his house and that he wrestled with M.B. soon after M.B. got to his house and changed into just his gym shorts.
James Brennan also admitted during the canonical trial, according to Monday’s testimony, that he had a king-sized bed and told M.B. to sleep on one half and he would sleep on the other half. He further admitted that after the two were in bed, M.B. discussed having problems getting an erection. James Brennan testified at his canonical trial, according to Quirk, that he told M.B. it was probably OK, but asked whether M.B. thought it was something he needed to get help with.
James Brennan repeatedly denied during the canonical trial, however, that he ever touched M.B. during the night.
James Brennan testified that he remained in touch with the family after he was confronted by M.B.’s parents and was even called by M.B.’s mother to see if he could help M.B. with community service.
Defense attorney William Brennan repeatedly noted that, during the canonical trial, M.B. backed off his allegation that William Brennan assaulted him during the community service. He also tried to draw to the jury’s attention that it was not until M.B.’s mother asked James Brennan for money when the family was in a tough financial spot and Brennan declined that the allegations arose. But the prosecution was quick to object to those references and Sarmina sustained the objections.
William Brennan pointed out that Quirk never asked James Brennan about the allegations involving the community service. Quirk said that during his earlier examination of M.B. during the canonical trial, M.B. withdrew that piece of the allegation. But during the criminal trial, M.B. testified in early April that James Brennan did expose himself to M.B. on the church grounds.
James Brennan is facing criminal charges that he abused M.B. and was in a conspiracy with the archdiocese’s secretary of clergy, defendant Monsignor William J. Lynn, in charge of reviewing instances of sexually abusive priests to endanger the welfare of that youth. It was pointed out by Sarmina during cross-examination Monday that Lynn was no longer in his role as secretary of clergy in 2006 when the allegations by M.B. against James Brennan were first raised. Lynn left that position in 2004.
James Brennan also lamented the church’s process for dealing with abuse allegations. In his closing statement of his 2008 canonical trial, which Quirk read into the record Monday, Brennan said he was frustrated that the process took two-and-a-half years. He said his reputation was trashed and “there’s not much they can do to resurrect that,” but he said he hoped no other priest had to go through the same process.