DOJ Arrests Philly Ex-Priest for False Statements

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by David Nussman  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  September 10, 2019   

Former Philadelphia priest Robert Brennan arrested, charged with lying to FBI agents

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PHILADELPHIA (ChurchMilitant.com) - A laicized priest has been arrested on charges of lying to federal agents.

Robert Brennan, formerly a priest of the archdiocese of Philadelphia, was arrested in Maryland on Sept. 5 and indicted in Philadelphia on charges of giving false statements to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The four counts of false statements are related to an April 25 interview the FBI conducted with the 81-year-old laicized ex-priest.

After his arrest in Maryland, Brennan was brought to a federal court in Philadelphia for arraignment.


A Sept. 5 press release from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) states, "During the April 25, 2019 interview with the FBI, Brennan made several allegedly false statements that prior to the filing of the 2013 criminal case and civil lawsuit against him, he did not know Sean McIlmail, his father, mother or brother."

McIlmail was an alleged victim of Brennan. Back in September 2013, the Philadelphia district attorney's office charged Brennan of sexually abusing McIlmail when he was a minor.

After McIlmail died of a drug overdose that October, the charges against Brennan were dismissed. But McIlmail's family filed a lawsuit against Brennan and the Philadelphia archdiocese in November that year.

The Philadelphia archdiocese laicized Brennan in March 2017. The lawsuit McIlmail's family filed was settled for an undisclosed amount in May 2018.

During the April 25, 2019 interview with the FBI, Brennan made several allegedly false statements.

Allegedly, Brennan falsely told the FBI that he did not know the late McIlmail, or members of the family, prior to 2013.

Church Militant reached out to the Philadelphia archdiocese about Brennan's arrest but received no response by press time.

In the press release on the DOJ's website, U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain stated, "Making false statements to the FBI is a serious crime, and given the circumstances, the alleged false statements here are particularly disturbing." 

He added, "We will use all of the tools at our disposal to hold this defendant accountable for his alleged actions."

McSwain is the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The press release quotes Pennsylvania attorney general Josh Shapiro as stating, "The defendant allegedly lied to the FBI to obstruct an investigation into complaints that he sexually abused a child while serving as a priest."

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Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced the

release of the grand jury report in August 2018.

"I'm proud to work with our federal partners to hold him accountable," Shapiro added. "Our office will investigate and prosecute anyone who abuses children, takes advantage of their position of power, or gives false statements to law enforcement, no matter who they are."

In August last year, Shapiro announced the release of the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report — a massive document detailing allegations of abuse against hundreds of Catholic priests in six of Pennsylvania's eight Catholic dioceses. 

The archdiocese of Philadelphia was not investigated in relation to the 2018 grand jury report. But it was subject to similar investigation more than a decade prior, for a grand jury report released in 2005.

That report included allegations against Brennan.

It states, for instance, "Father Robert L. Brennan, ordained in 1964, was made a pastor by [then-Archbishop Anthony Bevilacqua] in 1988. Since that time, the archdiocese has learned of inappropriate or suspicious behavior by Fr. Brennan with more than 20 boys from four different parishes. He was psychologically evaluated or 'treated' four times."

The 2005 grand jury report claims Brennan was repeatedly shuffled around from parish to parish over the years.

Brennan was ordained to the priesthood in 1964. Concerns about his behavior around underage boys go back to the fall of 1988, during Brennan's first few months as pastor at St. Ignatius parish in Yardley. 

He was appointed pastor in July. That November, another priest at the parish wrote to the archdiocese that Brennan was showing inappropriate physical affection to altar boys, including hugging and kissing. There were also allegations that Brennan would force boys to sit on his lap.

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