Lawyer spars with priest's accuser in Pa. trial

April 5, 2012 - 4:45 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A second day of cross-examination of a key witness in a landmark priest abuse trial was marked by more hostile exchanges Thursday between a man who claims he was molested as a teen and the attorney representing the man's accuser.

The accuser, who is now 30, testified that he was 14 years old when the Rev. James Brennan sexually abused him at the priest's apartment in West Chester, outside Philadelphia. An attorney for Brennan continued grilling the man on inconsistencies from his earlier accounts of the 1996 incident and ticked off a list of reasons why he would lie about being abused, from financial gain to jealousy of the priest for spending too much time with the man's mother.

"You're going to sit here and tell me that ... I put myself through this to get this man out of my life?" the man responded. "You are reaching, my man, you are way off."

When the defense attorney stated that the accuser's parents remained friends with the priest for years after the alleged abuse, then suggested that was because the accuser never told his parents because the abuse never happened, the former Marine exploded on the witness stand.

"Are you kidding me right now? You should be ashamed of yourself!" he yelled. "You should be ashamed, and I'm going to pray for you."

Brennan is on trial with Monsignor William Lynn, the first Roman Catholic official in the U.S. charged with endangering children for allegedly shifting priests suspected of molestation from parish to parish without warning anyone of previous sex-abuse complaints. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Many people have testified about being abused by priests since the trial began March 26, but the 30-year-old man is the first whose case falls within the statute of limitations.

He testified Wednesday that in the summer of 1996, Brennan took him to his apartment with a plan to watch movies in the evening and get up the next morning for a day of golfing. At the apartment, the family friend and man he treated like an uncle showed him online pornography, fondled himself, then got into bed with him and molested him, his accuser testified.

He said the abuse turned him from a good student with a positive outlook to a life of alcoholism, drug abuse, crime, three suicide attempts and a stint in the Marine Corps cut short by mental illness. Although the man's name has been stated in court, The Associated Press generally does not identify people alleging sexual abuse.

Defense attorney Bill Brennan, who is not related to the priest, pressed the accuser on inconsistencies in his recollections about the type of computer the priest owned and other details of that night and the following day, which the man dismissed as "trivial."

"He molested me, that man right there, and he knows what he did," the accuser said as he pointed at the priest, who did not show a visible reaction.

The man also has a pending civil suit against Brennan, Lynn and other church officials, and the archdiocese has paid for his therapy and some of his bills.

"What does that have to do with him molesting me?" the man asked after the defense attorney described the financial assistance and the pending lawsuit. "It's not about money, it's about justice and so he can be off the street and not hurt another child like he hurt me."

Also testifying Thursday was a 42-year-old man who said he was molested twice in 1981 by a Norristown priest.

The man, his voice cracking as he tried to retain his composure, said he was 12 when the priest assaulted him in a seminary shower and on a trip to the Poconos. He said he never told anyone because he was ashamed — even denying that anything had happened when confronted by his father, who had suspicions about the priest — until he spoke to an archdiocesan investigator in 2003.

"I took it as I had done something wrong and I needed to defend myself," he said of the encounter.

The former Norristown priest is not a defendant but prosecutors are using the testimony about him to build a case against Lynn, who was secretary of clergy from 1992 to 2004 and entrusted within investigating complaints against priests.

A 2005 grand jury report revealed that the archdiocese knew about the boy's complaint and others against the priest, who has since been defrocked, but he was moved to six different parishes.

Although the accuser's names were stated in court, The Associated Press generally does not identify people alleging sexual abuse.

The trial resumes Monday.