THE REV. James Brennan told church investigators four years ago that he let a 14-year-old boy view online pornography and share his bed in 1996 but denied that he touched the teen or exposed himself, according to documents revealed Monday at his landmark clergy sex-abuse trial.
Brennan told his interrogators at a 2008 canonical proceeding that his decision to let the boy view the images and sleep next to him that night was "borderline" inappropriate. Still, he said he was blindsided when the young man came forward after a decade and accused him of sexual assault.
"I was just devastated," Brennan testified, according to a transcript read to jurors.
His statements emerged as the trial against Brennan and Monsignor William Lynn began its sixth week.
Prosecutors and Brennan's defense lawyer had clashed in recent weeks over whether and how his statements to church investigators could be used at the criminal trial. Assistant District Attorney Patrick Blessington told Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina that the transcript included potentially incriminating statements.
But the 55-page document, read aloud in court by Monsignor Kevin M. Quirk, a West Virginia priest who served as the presiding judge at Brennan's church trial, wasn't a smoking gun. In it, Brennan repeatedly contradicted the testimony of his accuser, a 30-year-old Bucks County man who said the priest molested him during a sleepover at Brennan's West Chester townhouse.
That accuser previously testified that Brennan showed him pornography, wanted to compare their private parts, encouraged him to masturbate and forced him to sleep in the same bed. There, he said, Brennan allegedly pulled him close and pressed his genitals against the boy.
In the transcript read to jurors, Brennan said they slept clothed on opposite sides of the king-size mattress, the only bed in his townhouse. He said it was the boy, not he, who asked about penis sizes and erection.
"Is it possible you touched him?" Quirk asked during the 2008 hearing, according to the transcript.
"No," Brennan replied.
"Did you attempt to hold him close to you?" the judge asked.
"Not that I recall," Brennan said.
The accuser reported his allegation to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in 2006. The outcome of the canonical trial is unclear. Brennan, 48, remains on restricted ministry.