Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mother of Alleged Rape Victim Says She'll Never Really Know What Happened Between Her Son and Her Priest

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.


  1. I want to give kudos to the person who left the following comment on's trial comment board:

    "I come to the Philly Inquirer to read a watered down version of what happened at the trial and then I go to the Philadelphia Priest Abuse Trial blog to find out what really happened."


    This new post exemplifies that.
    Another terrific job, Ralph. Thank you.


  2. Great reporting again.

    That last line shows the true evil of the Catholic Church.

    Even Mark's mother doesn't know for sure what happened. The highly paid attorneys (unknowingly financed by the congregation) smile because they've just added doubt.

    The insidious evil of the crime of pedophile priest sex abuse is that in most cases the only people that know the real truth are the child sex abuser, dressed up in a costume pretending to be “Christ on earth”, and a poor, innocent child who knows he isn't going to be believed.

    The pedophile priest is almost always going to lie, with the rare exception of Father Avery, who lied for 30 years before finally telling the truth.

    The pedophile priest, an agent for Satan, also knows that he has a billion bullies that will support him. They have no interest in finding the real truth. They have interest in protecting their money, their buildings, and their public power. This is how Satan converts the good people to evil all at the expense of God's best, most innocent children.

    The child sex abuse victims, of course, are very unlikely to come forward. Psychiatrists say that only one out of three Catholic sex abuse victims in their care comes forward, and many of the victims never have the courage or money to go to a psychiatrist. They know they won't be believed, and that belief is constantly reinforced by Cardinal Dolan, the Catholic League, themediareport, Fr Z, and an angry Catholic mob voice.

    If Catholics wanted the truth, they could've gotten a long, long time ago. When they did get the truth inside the church, priests and bishops hid it, sacrificing the children.

    If the Catholic congregation demanded the truth, they could have forced all of these priests to take lie detector tests or take high-pressure interrogations from church officials who could have threatened severe religious consequences. No such luck. They gave into the temptation of financial greed and cowardice, just as Satan would hope.

    Of course, we still haven't heard about Father Brennan's history, but according to the grand jury report, even Cardinal Bevilacqua (who himself lied under oath), didn't trust or believe Father Brennan.

    1. I totally agree. This isn't just about the Catholic hierarchy taking advantage of the congregation. It is all about the congregation which is, across the board, so spineless that they still won't do anything about this. They will not go to the Bishop's mansion and demand answers. They will not call anyone to account. Not in America anyway.

      Across the ocean, the Prime Minister scorched the Vatican and closed the Embassy. He ordered the Pope to let him know if his church/state is going to comply with the laws of the sovereign republic of Ireland. I believe he's still tapping his fingers awaiting the reply. The reply that was given was too ridiculous to even be considered valid. This Prime Minister will get his answer.

      Here in America, we don't even have a single law or a hearing or an investigation of any kind by our government as a result of this brutalizing of American children. When they finally tally up the numbers, 100,000, 200,000, who knows how many hundred thousand children were scarred, America will have to search its soul as to why this was allowed. Catholics and non-Catholics alike, one nation under God, will have to atone for this.

      I wasn't even abused by a priest, and I'm furious about this and aim to see it stopped. Imagine how the abused ones feel.

    2. True, Sarah, and it's actually worse than that in Ireland.

      In a recent 60 Minutes episode, they said that attendance at churches in Ireland is down 88%. I've to a variety of Catholic churches in the last year just to see how well the 11 o'clock masses were attended, and it is never been more than 15% full. Most Catholics are actually ex-Catholics, but they just don't officially register as such.

      They figured out what Ireland figured out. This isn't God's church.

    3. I saw that 60 minutes segment with Archbishop Martin. The scene playing out in Ireland is fascinating enough that it should be reported as cultural news if not religious, since religious news is apparently on the outs in mainstream media unless it's a bunch of wackos with few numbers.

  3. "Of course, we still haven't heard about Father Brennan's history, but according to the grand jury report, even Cardinal Bevilacqua (who himself lied under oath), didn't trust or believe Father Brennan."

    I imagine Bevilacqua had heard enough clerical sex abusers to recognize a pattern.

    The thing that saddens me is eventually Mark will understand the persons who really betrayed him are his parents, especially his mother. And she did it again on the stand. Narcissists are very very good at splitting family members and this Fr Brennan seems to have had a 'gift' for such splitting. It's how so many of them were able to abuse multiple family members. I sometimes wonder if they didn't get a class in this technique in the seminary.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I thought the same thing. And that the class taught them how to buy a cottage on the lake. And how to tickle and wrestle with children, and it taught them these weird massages. Creepy.

  4. I disagree, colkoch. I don't think his mother was lying.

    I think she may have been literally trying to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God. This is in contrast to Cardinal Bevilacqua, the most holy Catholic in all of Philadelphia, and the spiritual leader of 1.5 million other Catholics, who lied under oath repeatedly, relentlessly and defiantly. If God is just, God won't help him now.

    The insidious evil of the crime of pedophile priest sex abuse is that in most cases the only people that know the real truth are the child sex abuser, dressed up in a costume pretending to be “Christ on earth”, and a poor, innocent child who knows he isn't going to be believed.

    Oh, and God.

    1. PatO, I didn't mean his mother was intentionally lying. I'm pretty sure she is still truly confused in her own mind. What I meant is that narcissistic predators like Brennan appears to be, groom both the parents and the kids. That's how they accomplish the splitting between their victims and their protectors. It is critical the parents are so emotionally invested in the predator because that emotional attachment then becomes the primary reason the child won't be believed.

    2. True.

      One thing is for sure - parents for the next generation would be fools to let their children near a Catholic priest without a cell phone and a gun.

  5. I am perplexed by the media's decision [apart from this blog] to not print the names of the Bukowski family when they are testifying in open court. The family has filed two civil suits against the archdiocese, and even the district attorney's office, which has been complaining about this blog's printing of victims' names, has said that Mark Bukowski wants his name out there. What on earth is going on?

    I am also perplexed by the continuing gag order in this trial, and the continuing restraints on reporters. Reporters are not allowed to bring a cell phone or a computer into court. This decision by the judge has pretty much shut down TV coverage of the trial. Reporters are also not allowed to see courtroom exhibits shown to jurors and lawyers every day.

    Our local media is in a weakened state. Both papers just got out of bankruptcy, and are receiving public assistance from city taxpayers -- to the tune of $2.9 million -- to move to the old Strawbridge store on Market Street. Maybe it's not a good time to rock the boat. And nobody else in the media is doing anything about it either. Amazing. Meanwhile, the Vince Fumo trial of 2009 featured daily blogging by the newspapers, twittering jurors and saturation coverage by up to 10 reporters alone in one day from the Inquirer and Daily News. What a contrast.

    1. I think the Catholic Church's systematic complaints that any criticism or coverage of the trial is "catholic bashing," has had a silencing effect. The readership of print newspapers and local TV is geriatric and the older population in Philly has blinders on with regard to the church. The Bishops and priests have encouraged a very aggressive campaign of having parishioners complain about the coverage of the abuse trial; and I suspect that the Dolan and Bishop's complaint about the Health Care coverage for birth control is part of that same PR campaign that the church is being unfairly targeted by the secular media. The Chaput nonsense of "closing" then "saving" the catholic High Schools was more blatant PR nonsense; and a not so subtle way of saying that we need to close HS because of all these false abuse claims. With Fumo, there was no organized campaign by a broad spectrum of their audience complaining about negative Fumo coverage. That's why DPierre, i.e. MediaReport, is such a joke when he complains that the press is out to get the church. The press has always been deferential of the RCC for fear of alienating a core part of its audience. When JPII visited Philly in the 70s, the local press covered him like a rock star. During the AIDs crisis, when catholic priests themselves were infected with Aids at a higher rate than the general population, there was little negative coverage of its hypocrisy with regard to condoms; and little coverage of HIV infected priests. There has been no real reporting of the ridiculous use of church funds to build extravagant rectories and parishes in wealthy affluent suburban areas while established inner city parishes decline. Go to Avalon and Stone Harbor, NJ if you want to view the church's real estate holdings in some of the most expensive areas on the planet. (Unlike their parishioners, you shouldn't expect the priests to rent a small condo in North Wildwood for a vacation). As I have said before, if Walmart or ACME even transferred a single sex predator rather than calling the police, there would be outrage. There is one Sandusky at the state's largest university; and the board fired a revered coach under heavy criticism by alumni and supporters. The press, national and local, was brutal about Penn State's lack of response. The Church is the only organization known to harbor "Secret Archives" of sex offenders within its midst. How much more deferential could the press be of such a group of enablers? Given the political and financial clout of the AOB, the Boston's newspaper's 2002 coverage was unique and unprecedented. Given the backlash by older catholics, something similar is unlikely to ever be repeated. The tattered remnant of the once proud Philly newspapers would never cover a story likely to offend their shrinking elderly reader base.

    2. While reading your excellent blog today, I started thinking that there's actually something dangerous about this kind of broad scheme taking place under the guise of religion. And now your comment confirms it. The media won't report it. The government won't investigate it. Someone will have to make a movie about it at least. The surprising death of the Cardinal. The news of the shredding. And this brave, proud Mark Bukowski. Oh, and his mother too throwing a lob to the cool priest from the witness stand. Great movie. I can only hope that Hollywood's not scared of the Catholics.

  6. Ralph,
    I'm no lawyer, but I'm just wondering if you think that maybe Judge Sarmina might be so paranoid in trying to prevent a mistrial that she continues to impose these restrictions.
    Whatever the reason, you're certainly doing an incredible job despite the obstacles. Thanks very much.

    1. I agree.

      The Catholic church has unlimited money to do appeals, call for mistrials, etc, and it might be that Sarmina doesn't want to give them a sliver of a chance to do that.

  7. Thanks for a great post. It's funny, but the defense lawyers smiling says a lot about how you can get too close to the trees that you miss the forest. Mark's mother corroborated much of Mark's story. The grooming of minors, the inappropriate "horseplay" (wrestling to the point of breaking stuff), Brennan's personal and "health" issues, drinking to the point of intoxication with a parishioner you were allegedly trying to help, crossing boundaries with this family, and Mark's reaction following the sleepover. Like many predators, including Sandusky, Brennan chose his victim well: a troubled family in search of a father because mom was completely overwhelmed. The systematic plan to gain mom's trust and private access to the minors is also part of the same grooming pattern. And I don't know whether it is going to come into the trial, but what about the fact that Brennan had an inappropriate relationship with an O'Hara student ("David") and was living with him at a convent for several months after the boy graduated. Again, another decent catholic, Sister McCaffery, reported the inappropriate relationship to the Archdiocese before Brennan even encountered the Butowski's. I'm sorry, but as a normal well-adjusted 27 year old, I had zero interest in hanging out with a teen boy in an unsupervised setting. As a parent of teens, this is a tough enough age to deal with. So, yes, I would be very suspicious of any adult who was physically roughhousing with my teen son, massaging his back, and hosting sleepovers for him where he was given access to surf the net for porn.

    1. And it hasn't come out yet, but in the grand jury report, they show that Brennan's history is ridiculously sketchy, and Cardinal Bevilacqua himself said in secret church reports that he considered Brennan dishonest. (This is that same Bevilacqua that destroyed evidence of known pedophiles in 1994, then said under oath, that the church's top priority was the safety of children).

  8. Keeping the victims' names secret keeps others with information from being able to put two and two together.

    As Mr. Cipriano reported here: 'The detective called him after Kane told the archdiocese what he knew, after he found out from the media "what Brennan did to Mark."'

    No one but the criminals is served by keeping secrets about these crimes. As horrible as they are, if they are not exposed, they will not be rooted out.

    My 2 cents today, PS Ralph Cipriano is proving that the only real journalism in America today is on blogs.

    1. Kay, excellent point about the motivation for keeping victims names secret.

      I too totally appreciate what Ralph is accomplishing with this blog. If it wasn't for him, there truly would be virtually no coverage, and I also believe this is exactly what AB Chaput wants.

  9. Thanks a lot, Trish, for apparently still not believing your son. The boy never had a chance, not because of the priest but because of you. So often these cases boil down to massive parental neglect which is the beginning point. Priests spot crappy parents and target the kids. I hope Mark gets to a therapist who will point him in the right direction. A mother who never grew up.

    1. In fairness, Sarah, remember it was 1996, before news was accessible on the Internet, and before 2002, when the true colors of the Catholic church were shown to the world in Boston.

      Back then, it would have been crazy to even suggest that a priest would have sex with a child. Secondly, if anyone tried to suggest it, one billion Catholics would have defended the priest and viciously attacked the victims.

      In 1996, the only people that knew the truth about how much that this was happening was the Catholic church. In Philadelphia, Cardinal Bevilacqua, Bishop Cistone, and Bishop Cullen shredded the evidence of it. If they had done what Jesus Would Do, they would have told everyone the truth (note that 99% of Catholic reading this will say "I understand why they didn't tell the truth").

      Of course, worldwide, the Catholic church knew that this had been a major problem for decades or centuries, and priests in every parish knew about it, because they heard the confessions from other priests.

      The parents couldn't fathom what the truth would be. The Catholic church knew it, knew it was epidemic, and intentionally hid it, and allowed these known pedophiles to rape more children.

      That is supreme evil.

    2. She didn't have to fathom that priests were known to be pedophiles. Without knowing what we know now, she still saw and heard plenty that would raise big alarms. She stayed downstairs drinking with the priest even after her husband quit drinking. She saw her son freaked out after spending the night with him. The priest said something inappropriate happened. She did nothing. Her son entered a downward spiral culminating in suicide attempts. Still she did nothing. Even today, the mother doesn't believe her son, and was willing to throw a lob to the defense after her son's two days of grueling testimony. She just sounds like a terrifically cruel person to me. And the priest took advantage of that.


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