She seemed genuinely conflicted. In two hours on the witness stand, the mother of Mark Bukowski acknowledged that the defendant, Father James J. Brennan, was a gifted priest who had helped her through one of the darkest periods of her life.
"We hit it off," the mother testified at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia sex abuse trial, at the request of the prosecution. "He [Father Brennan] would come to dinner on Sunday. We became very close friends," she told the jury. The Bukowski family called him Father at first, then it was just Jim.
He became "a member of the family," the mother said. "He was like a brother to me."
But the woman from Newtown, Bucks County, is also the mother of Mark Bukowski, Father Brennan's principal accuser. In two days on the witness stand last week, Mark Bukowski charged that in 1996 when he was 14 years old, Father Brennan allegedly attempted to rape him.
After the attempted rape, Mark Bukowski told the jury, he became trapped in a downward spiral of drug and alcohol abuse, numerous criminal convictions, three suicide attempts and a discharge from the Marines for mental health reasons.
But on the witness stand Wednesday, Mark's mother said the day after the alleged attack, her son wouldn't tell her what happened, and neither would Father Brennan. It took years for her to learn the facts that her son has alleged in court. And yet on Wednesday, Mark's mother still seemed unsure about what happened 16 years ago between her son and her favorite priest.
At a 2008 canonical hearing on her son's charge against Father Brennan, the mother of Mark Bukowski testified that "And all things being equal, after all things being said about Father Brennan, he is a gifted priest ... I still till this day do not know what happened."
When confronted with that testimony by Father Brennan's attorney, William J. Brennan [no relation], Mark's mother went one step further, telling the lawyer, "I will never really know what happened."
It was the last thing she said on the witness stand, and her words left smiles on the faces of defense attorneys.
Mark's mother met Father Brennan in 1990 at St. Andrew's Church in Newtown, where Father Brennan was the associate parochial vicar.
She was 37 at the time; Father Brennan was 27; Mark only 8. Mark's mother had her hands full, she told the jury. Mark was the middle child of three siblings. Besides caring for three young kids, Mark's mom was also the primary caretaker for her mother, who was dying of ALS.
The witness testified that she was very close with her mother. When Mom got sick in February 1990, she moved with her daughter. The daughter's husband, a contractor, built an addition specifically for his mother-in-law.
Mark's mother put in a request at St. Andrew's to have a priest bring communion to her ailing mother. Father Brennan showed up at her door.
"He was the cool young priest on the staff," the witness told the canonical court, testimony that was read into the record Wednesday by Father Brennan's lawyer. The priest had red hair, was in rugged good shape, and rode motorcycles. But her mother declined rapidly. By November 1990, she was dead.
For Mark's mother, it was a crisis of faith. And the man who pulled her through was Father Brennan. In her canonical testimony that was read into the record, the witness said that Father Brennan's homilies and spiritual insights got her through the hard times. "He touched me in all those ways," she told the canonical court.
When Father Brennan came over for Sunday dinner, he would wrestle with Mark Bukowski and his older brother. "It looked like innocent horseplay to me," she said.
But after Father Brennan and Mark Bukowski broke her sofa, Mark's mother said she was furious, and put an end to the wrestling.
On Sundays, Father Brennan would have beer or scotch with Mark's mother. They liked to drink. When they were done, "there were times when I became concerned about him driving home," she told the jury.
"Was it strange to have a priest hanging around all the time?" defense attorney William J. Brennan asked.
"Yes," she answered. She said that many people wondered why Father Brennan would come over for Sunday dinners twice a month. The Bukowskis and Father Brennan remained close even after he left St. Andrew's, and took a leave of absence from the priesthood.
"When I met Father Brennan, he was estranged from his own family," the witness testified. She said she tried to create a surrogate family for the priest.
The priest played golf with Mark, his father and brother. The priest took the boys on a trip to Gettysburg. And he kept coming over for Sunday dinner, beers and scotch. Sometimes the father, who gave up drinking at some point, would go upstairs to bed, while the priest hung around. On occasion, the priest even stayed over in the mother-in-law's apartment.
Last week on the witness stand, Mark Bukowski conceded he was jealous of the attention his mother was lavishing on Father Brennan, saying he thought it was "unhealthy."
In 1996, while he was on a leave of absence, Father Brennan had a job, and an apartment in West Chester. He invited Mark Bukowski and his older brother John to stay over, so they could play golf the next morning in a foursome with another friend. Mark's brother had to cancel because he was on the cross country team, his mother testified. But Mark still wanted to go. He was 14 at the time.
In his testimony last week, Mark Bukowski told the jury that while he was at Father Brennan's apartment, he ate Captain Crunch cereal and Father Brennan drank Scotch. They got on Father Brennan's computer and visited sex chat rooms and porn sites.
Father Brennan and Mark Bukowski ended up sharing the priest's bed, Mark Bukowski told the jury. Both the priest and the boy were wearing t-shirts and boxer shorts. Mark Bukowski charged that while lying in bed with his back to the priest, Father Brennan restrained the boy with his arms while he pressed his erect penis in between the boy's buttocks. "He had his penis in my ass," Mark Bukowski yelled several times in the courtroom.
After the alleged attack, Mark Bukowski called his mother. "He sounded uncomfortable," she told the jury. When she saw her son the next day, she asked him, "What's going on," and she said her son replied, "It was just weird, Mom, it was just weird."
But when she pressed him for details, "He just closed down," she said. Mark's mother and father met with Father Brennan at a hotel, and she asked if "something inappropriate" had happened. She said the priest told her, "Something inappropriate happened, and it won't happen again."
Father Brennan said that Mark "wanted to go on the computer," and if she wanted more details, "you have to ask Mark."
"There were two people in that room," the witness testified she told the priest. "You were the adult." But she said Father Brennan wouldn't give her any other details.
When the prosecutor asked why she just didn't end the relationship with Father Brennan at that point, she replied, "I can't answer that, and I'll never forgive myself."
Over the years, she said, she would ask her son about what had happened between him and Father Brennan when Mark was 14, and "he would slough it off." She said her son told her some details of the alleged attack when he regained consciousness in the hospital after a suicide try. When she finally understood what her son was alleging, she told the canonical court in 2008 that it was "a lighting bolt right between the eyes."
In 2005, when she was having financial trouble, Mark's mother called Father Brennan and asked for help. At the time, her husband was out of work and looking for a job. While she was on the phone, Bukowski testified, Father Brennan asked about Mark.
"Mark's not doing well," she told the priest. Father Brennan asked what was wrong, and the witness told the jury her reply was, "It always comes back to you, Jim."
When it was time for cross-examination, defense attorney Brennan asked about that phone call that the witness said was the last time she ever spoke to Father Brennan.
Wasn't she in bad financial shape, the defense attorney wanted to know.
"I was seeking work for [her husband}," she said. Father Brennan didn't have any answers, so he gave her the phone number for somebody he knew at Catholic Social Services.
Defense attorney Brennan asked if that response made her angry.
"I wasn't happy about it," the witness said. "But I wasn't unhappy about it."
Attorney Brennan asked the witness if she knew that when her son testified in court last week, he told Judge M. Teresa Sarmina that he couldn't hear out of his right ear. At the time, Mark Bukowski was trying to explain why he couldn't stop saying Thank You every time she made a ruling in his favor. The judge had pointedly asked Mark Bukowski to stop thanking her.
"I'm not aware of that," the witness testified. Then she mentioned that her son was "always saying 'What?' to me. Maybe that's the reason." It was a quick recovery that got laughs from the jury.
Defense attorney Brennan asked the witness about problems in her marriage, and whether she and her husband had to declare bankruptcy. But the prosecutor objected, and both objections were sustained by the judge.
Defense attorney Brennan asked the witness if she had accompanied Father Brennan on a trip to Cincinnati. Yes, she said, they were traveling to the National Association of Pastoral Musicians.
"He's got a beautiful singing voice, and conducts choir," she explained to the defense attorney. The lawyer also asked about the time Father Brennan got a leave of absence from the priesthood.
"He was struggling," the witness told the jury. "He felt drawn to the monastic life," but she added that type of thing was "easy to romanticize."
The performance of the witness left the defense attorneys in the courtroom smiling. It was a radical departure from last week, when Mark Bukowski left the witness stand, and paused briefly in the courtroom to stare back at the defense table where Father Brennan was sitting.
Bukowski, a tall and slender 30-year-old with a shaved head, was standing directly in front of two reporters from CNN and Fox 29 News. Both heard him say in Father Brennan's direction, "See you later fucker."
Also in court yesterday, Robert Kane, 62, of Doylestown, testified that more than 20 years ago, when he was Mark Bukowski's baseball coach, he saw Father Brennan massage the boy's shoulders. At the time, Mark was no more than 8 years old, Kane testified.
Kane said the incident occurred when he was visiting the Bukowski home. Kane said he was the head coach of a traveling team of all-stars in the Babe Ruth league. Mark Bukowski's father was an assistant coach; Mark was a player on the team.
The boys on the team had been playing in the yard, and were all sweaty. Many, like Mark, didn't have shirts on, Kane told the jury. In the kitchen of the Bukowski home, Kane said he saw Father Brennan massaging Mark's bare shoulders.
"It was kind of like looking at a black-and-white picture and seeing someone wearing a yellow hat," Kane testified. He said he remembered that Mark's mother had told him what a "great guy" Father Brennan was. Kane said he didn't report what he saw to Mark Bukowski's father, or his mother, because he was afraid she would get mad at him.
"I thought it was unusual to see a priest massaging a boy's shoulders," Kane told the jury. It happened around 1990, but Kane waited more than 20 years to tell his story. Two months ago, Kane reported the incident to a detective from the district attorney's office. The detective called him after Kane told the archdiocese what he knew, after he found out from the media "what Brennan did to Mark."
Defense Attorney William J. Brennan was not impressed. Where's the child abuse, he wanted to know.
"I reported the massaging of the shoulders," Kane testified.
"That's it?" Brennan asked incredulously.