Former Resurrection priest arrested in federal probe

Former Resurrection of Our Lord priest Robert Brennan was charged Thursday with lying to the FBI.

Robert Brennan TIMES FILE PHOTO

Robert Brennan, a former priest at Resurrection of Our Lord Catholic Church who has faced allegations of child sexual abuse, was arrested Thursday and charged with lying to federal agents.

In 2013, Brennan was arrested after Sean McIlmail reported that the priest had molested him while serving at Resurrection, 2000 Shelmire Ave., from 1998 to 2001. The alleged abuse began when McIlmail was 11 and continued until he was 14.

The District Attorney’s Office dropped the case after McIlmail died of a drug overdose at age 26. A civil case filed by McIlmail’s family against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was settled last year for an undisclosed amount of money.

Brennan’s arrest on Thursday wasn’t for the alleged abuse of McIlmail or others who have accused the since-defrocked priest of molestation while they were children.

Rather, the charges stem from an interview Brennan had with FBI agents in April, during which he claimed to not know McIlmail or members of his family prior to the criminal and civil cases in 2013, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Prosecutors believe they can prove Brennan, who was stationed at Resurrection in Rhawnhurst from 1993 to 2004, knew the family.

Brennan, 81, of Perryville, Maryland, pleaded not guilty in court to four counts of making false statements to federal investigators. Katrina Young, a public defender appointed to represent him, declined to comment on the case.

If convicted, Brennan could face a maximum of 32 years behind bars, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“Making false statements to the FBI is a serious crime, and given the circumstances, the alleged false statements here are particularly disturbing,” said William McSwain, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in a statement.

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

Brennan was laicized, or formally stripped of his position as a priest, in 2017. He hadn’t served in active ministry in the Archdiocese since 2005. His duties were restricted not long after his name featured prominently in the widely publicized grand jury report on sexual abuse by Philadelphia’s Catholic clergy.

Archdiocese spokesman Ken Gavin said the church would not play a role in Brennan’s defense.

McIlmail told authorities in 2013 that he was repeatedly abused by Brennan at various venues, including Resurrection’s sacristy, a parish storage area and a theater. 

After McIlmail came forward, then-DA Seth Williams charged Brennan with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and aggravated indecent assault. Brennan’s attorneys maintained their client’s innocence.

“The decades-long demons and scars that Sean endured ended when he was found dead by Philadelphia Police detectives,” Williams said at a 2013 news conference announcing his office would be dropping the charges. “I can not say enough about the bravery Sean displayed in coming forward to bring these crimes to light. His courage should serve as an inspiration to us all.”

Brennan was ordained in 1964 and had stints at St. Pius X in Broomall; Our Lady of Calvary in the Far Northeast; Stella Maris in South Philadelphia; St. George in Glenolden; St. Helena in Olney; St. Ignatius in Yardley; St. Eleanor in Collegeville; and St. Mary in Schwenksville.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a nonprofit victims support group, praised the move to bring charges against Brennan.

“We hope that this arrest signals that law enforcement officials in the FBI are looking closely at cases of clergy abuse and finding opportunities to keep potentially dangerous men off the street,” the organization said in a statement.

Brennan was released after his arraignment and ordered to remain on house arrest in Maryland pending further court proceedings. ••