Robert Brennan arrested in Maryland as US investigation of priest sex abuse produces first charges

In this Nov. 13, 2013, file photo, a photo of Rev. Robert Brennan, right, is displayed during a news conference in Philadelphia, where attorneys for the family of Sean McIlmail, an alleged priest-abuse victim, announced a wrongful death lawsuit against Roman Catholic church officials. McIlmail claimed Brennan abused him for years, beginning at age 11. Federal prosecutors in Philadelphia have charged Brennan, a former Roman Catholic priest with lying to the FBI about whether he knew the accuser and his family. Authorities say Brennan was arrested in Maryland and is expected to be arraigned Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019, in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia — Federal prosecutors filed their first charges Thursday in a sweeping investigation of child sexual abuse by clerics in Pennsylvania, accusing a former Roman Catholic priest of lying to the FBI about whether he knew an accuser and his family.

Robert Brennan, 81, was arrested in Maryland and was expected to be arraigned Thursday afternoon in Philadelphia, authorities said.


Brennan told FBI agents in April that he did not know accuser Sean McIlmail from his years at a northeast Philadelphia parish from 1993 to 2004, according to the indictment.

Brennan was indicted on related state sexual assault charges in 2013, but the case was dropped when McIlmail died of a drug overdose before trial.


His family has settled a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for an undisclosed sum.

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A former lawyer for Brennan did not return calls seeking comment.

A 2005 Philadelphia grand jury report said that Brennan was repeatedly named in complaints about inappropriate behavior around children. He was suspended by the church and moved to Perryville, Maryland. He was defrocked in 2017.

Former District Attorney Seth Williams, who charged Brennan in 2013 only to drop the charges after the young man died, said he had hoped to "have brought Father Brennan to justice." However, he said he didn't have the evidence to pursue the sex abuse charges.

"It appears now that the only justice he'll have is in the afterlife," Williams said at the time.

But U.S. Attorney William McSwain sent broad subpoenas to dioceses across Pennsylvania in the wake of last year's damning grand jury report by the state attorney general. Brennan's arrest is the first to stem from that probe.

"Making false statements to the FBI is a serious crime, and given the circumstances, the alleged false statements here are particularly disturbing," McSwain said. "We will use all of the tools at our disposal to hold this defendant accountable for his alleged actions."

Brennan is charged with four counts of lying to authorities. He faces a sentence of up to 32 years in prison if convicted.