‘My Worst Nightmare’: Falsely Accused Priest Bemoans Slow Church Response

Rev. Oliver Brennan :: Ireland

Happy to return to active ministry! Rev. Oliver Brennan

A number of Irish media outlets have previously relayed the ordeal of Rev. Oliver Brennan, a priest who was falsely accused of sex abuse dating back some thirty years earlier.

However, as the Irish Catholic newspaper now reports, while Brennan feels "a great sense of relief" for having been exonerated of an accusation he always vehemently denied, the priest believes that Church authorities did not fully support him during his difficult time.

When Brennan was first accused in August 2010, his case was referred to law enforcement, and the priest voluntarily removed himself from ministry while declaring that the allegations were completely "false and groundless."

Exonerated, but still a long wait to return to ministry

Law enforcement thoroughly investigated the claim, and in November 2011, fifteen months after the accusation, officials completely dismissed the charges against him. At the time, the Irish Times quoted Brennan:

"[I look forward] to return to ministry in the church at the earliest possible date so that I can continue to provide for many years to come a worthwhile service to the people I have been called to serve."

Unfortunately, that "earliest possible date" did not come until last week, nearly a year after he was exonerated by civil authorities.

What took so long? Well, Fr. Brennan still had to wait for the results of a slow-moving "Church inquiry." As the priest had served nearly four decades in ministry without blemish, he describes the two-and-a-half years away from his livelihood as particularly painful.

Said Brennan:

"It has been my worst nightmare … I felt very let down by the cardinal and diocesan authorities. When they make the announcement to parishioners, there is an insistence in the statement about the need for the presumption of innocence. But it doesn't feel like that, the treatment you receive is very different.

"I would have to say that I didn't feel compassionately supported by our diocesan authorities. The aim of our diocese is to be compassionate, but I didn't feel it.

"As time went on there was occasional contact [from senior diocesan authorities] but I certainly didn't feel there was the compassionate support I deserved."

Not a good outlook

Sadly, Fr. Brennan's reaction is quite reflective of a perceived attitude that we have cited before: that bishops are swift to abandon priests accused of abuse, no matter how flimsy the charges are. Writing about the Church scandals in August 2011, Catholic scholar Dr. Jeff Mirus wrote:

"Ever since the sexual abuse scandal broke over ten years ago, good priests have complained that they frequently do not get the kind of support from their bishop that they would expect when faced with allegations of misconduct. The attitude of many bishops seems to have changed from an assumption of innocence to a desire to distance oneself as quickly as possible from anyone who is accused. While guilty priests must be promptly removed from priestly service, not all who are accused are guilty."

Meanwhile, a few years ago, a senior priest described accused clerics as follows: "They feel shunned by their bishops, and describe themselves as lepers."

Unfortunately, years after the above comment was made, the outlook for accused priests does not seem any more bright or just. While accusations against priests must be thoroughly and promptly investigated, even by law enforcement authorities, it seems we are still at a place where accused priests are presumed guilty, even by their own bishops.

(HT: Phil Lawler, CatholicCulture.org)


  1. Publion says:

    There are so many variables in this type of thing it’s hard to get a clear picture without a lot of information.
    The Irish episcopacy is new to the type of Matter that clerical sex-abuse allegations have created here.  It’s no doubt unnerving to have to face such an onslaught.
    There is also  – alas – a tendency to put as much distance as possible between the organization and the accused, for whatever reasons. And even other priests become wary of somehow becoming a target for allegations that – as I have often said – can be put forth publicly with no corroboration at all and still enjoy presumptive credibility. Nor can we forget that ancient bugbear, guilt by association – especially in its Abuse Matter form: you must be a ‘defender of pedophiles’ even if you aren’t one yourself. And so on. What priest or pastor wants to introduce that complication into his parish’s life?
    Additionally, if they have not yet erected the type of reforms the American hierarchy has, then they are facing the deployment of the American abuse-advocacy with all its elements and yet cannot defend themselves with the clear evidence of reform that is now finally beginning to obstruct the free-flowing flood of presumed-credible allegations that had for so long enjoyed primacy over here.
    To what extent the internet exercises influence among the public; to what extent the Irish mainstream media are willing to embrace the ‘Crisis’ for their own commercial purposes; to what extent the Irish government is willing to support the ‘Crisis’ for whatever political purposes it may have … these are all questions needing some answers.
    Certainly the general Irish economic situation would support the possibility that the Church-as-pinata would appear an option to some people.
    The ideal option would be for the Irish Church to engage the individual allegations, assess them, and proceed accordingly. But it is precisely that ideal option that has been (rather neatly and slyly) ruled out by the ‘victimist’ insistence that i) any claim must be presumed credible and true, and that ii) therefore the claim cannot be questioned, because iii) to question a claim is to ‘re-victimize’ a (presumed) victim who is iv) already hugely and deeply and permanently traumatized by the (alleged) experience.
    This is a clear rhetorical and conceptual circularity that has for so long been given a free-pass over here. There is no way of breaking the circle to introduce actual evidence in one’s defense, and to accept even one claim or part of a claim is to open the floodgates to all claims – because there is no limiting reality of evidence that can be set on any allegations.  Presumptions – fueled by emotion rather than thought – provide the flood-flow that carries allegations over the otherwise problematic dam of requiring the evidentially-established veracity of claims.
    And on top of all that, there is that element whereby any Church hesitation or refusal to throw itself into this flood-flow can be characterized by interested-parties as proof of general guilt: if they aren’t admitting to the allegations or if they are trying to defend themselves, then that alone ‘proves’ guilt. One thinks here  of the back-and-forth in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” 30 or so years ago: Brian – mistakenly believed to be the messiah by the crowd – denies (accurately) that he is the messiah, to which the crowd response is: Only the true messiah would deny he is the messiah so you must be the messiah.
    You see where this sort of thing can go.
    And I would say that no assessment can ignore the reality that another commented mentioned recently: the media have been and still are – unconscionably, I would say – selective in what they have reported about all of this Matter. Specifically, that most media report the stories of abuse and do not report the miscarriages of process in cases where priests have been exonerated (by police investigation or the newly-reformed ecclesiastical review process (that formally includes police involvement).
    This glaring partiality on the part of media is a necessary element in the theory of ‘advocacy journalism’, and dovetails with what a commenter said: a major newspaper refused to publish anything but ‘positive’ material (meaning: positive from the point of view of anti-Church or pro-victimist elements) so as not to cast the whole gambit in a bad light or cast doubt on it.
    This theory of ‘advocacy journalism’ is not new. It comprises the same dynamics as Stalinist-era “socialist realism”: the controlled media were deployed not to ‘report’ the successes of Stalinist government but rather to help ‘create’ the public impression of such successes (which, as we now know, did not exist in historical actuality). And this feeds into the Oz-like phenomenon I have mentioned: the ‘success’ is primarily a matter of media-enabled smoke-and-mirrors, and behind the smokescreen-curtain of such efforts, the historical actuality is something very different indeed.
    The guiding idea (I would hardly call it a principle) is that the media were enlisted as part of the campaign to create an illusion of reality where no such reality existed. In the 30 or so years of the Catholic Abuse Matter, this has assumed the shape of creating – abetted increasingly by the developing internet – the appearance of a widespread, pervasive (and even governing)  ‘culture of rape’ engaged in by a pedophile priesthood and an enabling hierarchy, further buttressed by the claims that this was somehow unique to the Church and then further buttressed by the matrix of illogical presumptions  that anything Church action except immediate, total, and abject admission of all charges leveled against it constituted proof-positive of both that ‘culture’ and a formal policy of ‘cover-up’.
    Lastly, I would suggest a reading of this 1987 Democratic Party strategy memo (link below); it’s only 20 or so pages long and is not a difficult read. In this document from a quarter-century ago, Democratic political strategists discussed the powerful possibilities of using “Kids As Politics” (which is the actual title of the memo). It seems to me a clear indicator of what I have been suggesting here: that major political elements (especially of a secularist and Church-unfriendly or religion-unfriendly nature) were long ago moving toward using “kids” like baby-harp seals to emotionally stampede the public.
    This has played out in many ways in national political life and discourse, but clearly – especially when combined with what I call the ‘victimist’ trend in political strategy and the various elements even with the Church looking for their particular vision of change in the Church – this strategy is conceptually a perfect-fit with the type of mania or stampede, sustained now for decades, that we have seen in the Church Abuse Matter.

    • jim robertson says:


    • jim robertson says:

      Since the age of reason the Christian world is no longer run by fear of demons and hell. How much easier  it was then to control people with fear. Fox news aside, those days are gone. Saying people are victimist when they have been truley hurt, only adds insult to injury. Society became secularist when the Church stopped working for them. Maybe it was all those burnings at the stakes or religious wars. It's no conspiracy it's called progress and civilization.

  2. Julie says:

    Jim: Bull.

    • Laurie says:

      I would classify what happened to Rev. Brennan as a modern 'burning at the stake.'  Although there have been real instances of vile abuse by wolves dressed in sheeps clothing, there are innocent priests being victimized as well.  There is one I know of that has remained behind bars for many years even though there is new evidence that his accuser lied for windfall of money.  His lawyers are trying to get a new trial but that is an uphill battle. False accusation has become the tool of the unscrupulous at a time when priests are being vilified and presumed guilty of any charge.  And people who harbor an inner hatred for Christianity, particularly Catholicism because of its moral message, do not have a problem with innocent priests being falsely accused. 

  3. Jewells says:

    I can't imagine what it must be like to live in a world where you are automatically considered guilty by the public when you are accused of something and hauled away and removed from your position before proven to be guilty. It makes them targets for anybody that hates the Church and the clergy. Modern day lynchings are taking place. Justice should prevail in each and every case and it's not happening. Every one of the accused should be considered innocent until proven guilty and right now people are getting away with alot of false accusations to destroy the clergy and bankrupt the Catholic Church. If they are guilty…..prove it first and then they must pay for their crime.

    • Gail Ramplen says:

      Those that accuse falsely should get double the sentence appropriate to the alleged crime – just like in the Bible – swift and accurate justice.
      The USA so-called Justice system is becoming a laughing stock – if there is evidence of fraud, the accused should be let out on bail at the very least – immediately! It is a disgrace and a gross miscarriage of justice that Fr Gordon McRae is still languishing in jail. Shame on the USA. Shame! Hang your heads in shame!

  4. Vin says:

    I have always been very wary of accusations made many years after the alleged acts.  How can a person defend themselves after the passage of so much time?  If it weren't for the fact that money was paid to the "victims", I would think differently in some cases, but to me, that is the bottom line of many of the accusations.  I have no answer as to what can be done.  Human nature is human nature and sad as it is, some people will take advantage of a situation if there is money involved. I pray God will comfort the wrongly accused and that someday those accused will get the same innocent till proven guilty treatment.. 

    • Jewells says:

      They did this in Poland with the the Third Reich…..who put a plan in place to destroy the Catholic Church and their clergy by having their members claim to have been molested and the accused  were taken away in a moments notice with no fair trial and killed or put in prison and tortured. No trial and no evidence…..sounds like Communism too…..just hauled off and killed or persecuted without a fair trial. Our rights come from God not kings, queens or governments…..and we all deserve to be considered innocent until PROVEN guilty and our judicial system and media and even the Catholic Church has  failed the accused clergy and this is shameful and alarming and must stop. Every human deserves true justice.

  5. Tom says:

     There is no defence against a lie. 

    • Gail Ramplen says:

      …. especially whrn the accuser is not required to present evidence to support the allegation….

  6. Tom says:

    Oh if his cowardly bishop doesn't want his services to the faithful I will be glad to champion his cause for our diocese of Cheyenne Wyoming USA. we need good priests.  Wyoming is a great place to live.

  7. gua says:

    Satan, attacking the Church. That's why Mother Mary ask the faithfuls to pray for the priests. satan put bad people to infiltrate the priesthood and try to destroy the church from within. But God has said, His church will not be destroyed.

  8. Mark says:

    Reading the first comment I asked what the hell the guy is smoking. 
    It is a real tragedy what happened to this poor man. As someone on the 'other side of the fence' so to speak I can empathise. I did not lie. It was known and believed I did not lie and still I was treated like a criminal. By the hierarchy and their lawyers. They did not support you in your innocence. They did not support me in mine. Took so much but the one thing they never got – my faith. In my self, in God and in the good there is in the Church – the good people.  Chalk it to experience and get on with your life. Don't allow it or them any more power than already given to abuse you further. God bless.

  9. Steve says:

    If the Church responded with similar distancing in matters of academic misconduct, or scandal in their charitable or healing ministries, when leaders openly contradict Catholic teaching, you would at least see some consistency. But they still look the other way in these matters snce the popular media isn't on their backs. It's obvious what's going on here. 

  10. jim robertson says:

    What was another commttee formed to push the new party line? Truely pathetic. Why don't you focus on the priests you say are wrongly accused? I'll tell you why you don't. You don't care about them or you'd only talk about them. The only reason SNAP exists is to isolate victims and give you on the wrong side the right a target to whine about unproved allegations. Pathetic. No actions just whine.


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