Ex-Philly priest indicted 6 years after sex abuse victim’s death stymied efforts to prosecute

Federal authorities on Thursday arrested a former Northeast Philadelphia priest on new charges six years after a sexual abuse case against him fell apart when his accuser died of a heroin overdose shortly before he was due to testify in court.

According to sources familiar with the case, Robert L. Brennan, 81, formerly of Resurrection of Our Lord Parish, has been indicted for lying to the FBI about his relationship with the family of Sean McIlmail, who had said the priest had molested him for four years, starting when he was 11.

Brennan was detained Thursday at his home in Perryville, Md., said the sources, who were not authorized to discuss the case publicly until the charges had been unsealed. He is expected to make his first appearance in federal court in Philadelphia on Thursday afternoon.

His arrest is the first to emerge from a wide-ranging inquiry that federal prosecutors launched last fall into clergy sex abuse and cover-ups in Pennsylvania's eight Roman Catholic dioceses.

In October, the U.S. attorney's office subpoenaed each of the dioceses requesting a trove of records in pursuit of possible charges ranging from possession of child pornography to transporting children across state lines for sex.

Two Philadelphia grand juries have previously described Brennan as a serial sexual predator who molested more than 20 boys as he was moved from one Philadelphia-area parish to another over 15 years.

But until McIlmail agreed to press charges in 2012, all the allegations against Brennan were too old to prosecute.

Then-Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams filed sexual assault charges against the former priest. But just days before a preliminary hearing, McIlmail was found dead at age 26 in a car in Kensington. The district attorney's office later withdrew the charges.

Since then, his family emerged among the state's most outspoken advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse. Last year, his parents settled a wrongful death lawsuit for what their lawyers described at the time as the largest sum the Archdiocese of Philadelphia had paid out in an abuse case.

Brennan moved to Maryland after he was removed from ministry and later was defrocked as a result of allegations from McIlmail and others. It was not immediately clear Thursday whether he had retained an attorney.