Witness: Parish told Pa. priest had Lyme disease

Topics: From the Wires,

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Roman Catholic parishioners were told their priest had to leave his church in 1992 because he had Lyme disease, even though his removal actually came after an altar boy’s fondling complaint, a witness testified Monday.

Mary Mignogno, who knew about the boy’s complaint, didn’t know what to say to her children when she heard the lie from the pulpit.

A nurse and school volunteer, Mignogno had helped the boy tell his parents about the abuse. The boy said that the Rev. Robert L. Brennan routinely touched him inappropriately in exchange for candy or prizes. The parents had threatened to go public if Brennan wasn’t removed from their Schwenksville parish.

Mignogno testified as the seventh week got under way in the child-endangerment trial of Monsignor William Lynn, the secretary for clergy in Philadelphia from 1992 to 2004. Lynn is accused of helping the church transfer problem priests to new parishes.

Mignogno read aloud a 2002 letter she had sent to then-Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. Brennan — first accused in 1988 — was by then working in another parish.

“I think it’s time the church ceases to protect the bad priests,” Mignogno wrote. “The representatives of the church did wrong to cover up and hide this problem.”

She never heard back from the archdiocese.

On the stand, Mignogno broke down when she read a line about how the abuse crisis had tested her faith.

Brennan, now 74, spent several stints in sex-abuse therapy during his church career, but remained in active ministry until 2005 — three years after the priest-abuse scandal erupted nationwide.

The church’s review of his priestly status is “pending” at the Vatican, according to the Philadelphia archdiocese’s website. A working phone number for him could not be located.

Lynn is on trial with the Rev. James Brennan, who is of no apparent relation to the Schwenksville priest.

Earlier Monday, former FBI agent Jack Rossiter testified about being hired by the Philadelphia archdiocese in 2003 to investigate sex-abuse complaints, including one lodged against James Brennan.

James Brennan, 48, is on trial for the alleged sexual assault of a teenage boy at an apartment he had in West Chester when he was on leave in 1996. He admitted to Rossiter that the two had shared a bed, but said there was no intentional sexual contact.

Rossiter said he found the accuser credible, even though the man’s criminal record gave him pause.

On cross-examination, Rossiter acknowledged that the accuser’s family was having financial problems when he came forward with the decade-old allegation in about 2006. The accuser has filed civil suits against the archdiocese, Lynn, other church officials and even Rossiter.

The criminal trial is expected to last another three weeks.

On Friday, the Philadelphia archdiocese barred five suspended priests from ministry over sexual-abuse allegations or inappropriate behavior around children, and returned three to ministry. Another 17 remain under investigation. Six of those cases remain in the hands of law-enforcement officials more than a year after the priests were suspended, Archbishop Charles Chaput said.

The Philadelphia archdiocese has about 800 active priests.

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