THE CASE against a former Philadelphia priest accused of sexually abusing an altar boy at a Northeast Philadelphia parish is now uncertain after the alleged victim died over the weekend.

Rev. Robert L. Brennan, 75, was arrested last month and charged with rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, and aggravated sexual assault, for abuse that allegedly took place at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish between 1998 and 2001, starting when the boy was 11 years old.

District Attorney Seth Williams announced the victim's death in a statement yesterday.

"The decadeslong demons and scars the victim in this case endured ended this weekend when he was found dead by Philadelphia Police Detectives," Williams said. "I cannot say enough about the bravery this young man displayed in coming forward to bring these crimes to light. This young man's courage should serve as an inspiration to us all."

Williams said his office will likely decide whether to move forward with the prosecution by next week.

Marci A. Hamilton, an attorney who is representing the victim's family, said the 26-year-old man died Sunday from an accidental drug overdose.

"His family and we are devastated by the loss. He was a truly fine young man who had been winning the battle against his demons to bring his perpetrator Robert L. Brennan to justice and to expose Monsignor [William] Lynn and the Philadelphia Archdiocese for the policies and practices that devastated children and their families," said Hamilton, who has represented several alleged victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests.

Brennan's preliminary hearing, which was scheduled for yesterday, was continued until Nov. 14 in light of the news.

Brennan's defense attorney, Trevan Borum, declined to comment on the victim's death, and said he is unsure if the case will proceed since the District Attorney's Office is not required to turn over its evidence until after the preliminary hearing.

"I don't know what, if any, evidence they have in addition to the accuser's testimony, so for me to say this is the end of the case . . . it would be pure speculation," he said.

Prosecutors said the victim reported the abuse to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in January, spurred by the conviction of Lynn, former secretary of clergy, for covering up abuse claims. The Archdiocese immediately forwarded the allegations to the D.A.'s Office.

Prosecutors claim Brennan initially used his hand to penetrate the boy's anus when he was in the sixth grade, and later forced the boy to perform oral sex on him. The alleged assaults took place in the church sacristy, the priest's rectory bedroom, in a parish storage area and at a movie theater, authorities said.

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