It was one of the most graphic details in a grand jury report filled with uncomfortable passages: A sentence on Page 37 stating that after the Rev. James J. Brennan anally raped a 14-year-old, the priest remained inside his body as the boy cried himself to sleep.

Yet in Monday's opening statements at the long-awaited clergy sex-abuse trial in Common Pleas Court, both the prosecution and a defense attorney offered a sharply sanitized version of that night, which casts doubt on the case against Brennan and could weaken the conspiracy charge against Msgr. William J. Lynn, charged with protecting abusive priests and placing children in harm's way.

Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Coelho said the accuser had his underwear on when he was "almost raped" by Brennan.

Defense attorney William Brennan, no relation to his client, dismissed what transpired between the priest and the boy as a "pelvic bump between clothing."

The lawyer also suggested that the victim had "disavowed" a second allegation that the priest later masturbated in front of the teen in a shed at a suburban parish.

Neither side gave the jury an indication about what was behind the new narrative, but William Brennan noted the accuser's criminal history - which includes a conviction for filing a false report and lying to police.

"He's the type of person who makes up stories," the lawyer argued. "He made up the story about Jim Brennan."

Whom to believe?

Father Brennan, formerly of Cardinal O'Hara High School, was charged with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault, and a host of related offenses stemming from the alleged 1996 incident in a West Chester apartment during a leave of absence the priest sought from the ministry.

I've been following this case closely, so you can imagine my surprise to hear Father Brennan calmly enter not-guilty pleas to just three lesser charges: attempted rape, child endangerment, and conspiracy.

A gag order bars lawyers from talking about the case, so no one can explain the downgrading. Even civil-case attorney Kenneth Millman seemed puzzled when I asked whether his client had retreated or if prosecutors suddenly had cold feet.

"My client stands by the allegations set forth in his complaint" is all Millman said.

Both the civil and criminal cases against Brennan arose from the 2011 grand jury report, which allowed D.A. Seth Williams to make history, since Lynn is the highest-ranking church official in America to date to face charges of inaction and cover-up.

At the time, the blistering document was taken as a matter of deeply researched fact.

Monday, Williams wasn't even in the courtroom for the case of a lifetime. And now, the 2011 report reads in part like a florid draft goosed for dramatic effect.

If the victim wasn't raped, why declare that he was? Why overreach when even basic allegations - a priest showing pornography to a boy - are criminal enough?

One victim, one attack?

The commonwealth's case against Father Brennan involves one child and one assault. That accuser has since battled drugs and been convicted of forgery and fraud.

Flawed victims aren't unique in sex-abuse cases, but prosecutors were presumably confident enough in this man's story to bring charges.

And now?

In her opening statement, Coelho seemed more focused on holding up Lynn as a symbol of a morally bankrupt archdiocese that as an institution has escaped prosecution.

Lynn's attorney, Tom Bergstrom, hinted that jurors should pay close attention when Brennan's accuser takes the stand.

"You will have to evaluate that testimony," Bergstrom said, "and I know you will."

Brennan, representing the priest with the same name, said a verdict would depend "on what story we hear" from a victim whom even the prosecution now appears to doubt.

"If you don't believe" him, Brennan advised, "I submit to you this case is over."

Contact Monica Yant Kinney at 215-854-4670 or myant@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @myantkinney. Read her blog at philly.com/blinq

We invite you to comment on this story by clicking here. Comments will be moderated.