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Catholic Church Faces Wrongful Death Lawsuit in Drug Overdose Case

The family of a drug overdose victim has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against an archdiocese of the Catholic Church.

Wrongful death lawsuit legislation differs from state to state, but the basis of that legislation is the same no matter where the suit is filed. While the details of this case are particularly relevant to the McIlmail family in Philadelphia, stories like this can come from anywhere in the U.S., including Texas.
Families and loved ones sue to obtain compensation for a loss when that loss occurred due to the negligence of others. The plaintiffs also send a message to the perpetrators and to the public: what happened to their loved one should never happen to anyone else.

In October 2013, Sean McIImail, 26, died of an accidental drug overdose. After suffering alleged sexual abuse at Father Robert Brennan’s hands as a preteen, McIlmail struggled with substance abuse and addiction for years.

To memorialize his death and to make her own message clear to all, Sean’s mother has filed a statement of claim in the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. She alleges that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia turned a deaf ear to her sexual abuse complaints against Brennan. Allegedly, more than 20 other families also attempted to bring the matter to light, each to no avail.

The current lawsuit names not only Brennan, now 75, but also 62-year-old Monseigneur William Lynn, the man once responsible for investigating molestation complaints filed against priests. Msgr. Lynn ran run afoul of the law on a separate occasion, and he is currently serving out a prison term of three to six years for child endangerment. At Lynn’s trial, it was alleged that he actively transferred Brennan to multiple parishes, where Brennan then sexually abused preteen boys.

The McIImail lawsuit is not the only suit on the record against the Archdiocese. It is the third to highlight allegations of child sexual abuse by Brennan. Grand jury records from 2005 show his name figuring prominently in reports of child molestation in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia beginning in 1988. Charges were never laid, as the reported cases were too old to pursue. Brennan was ordered to step down from his duties and chose to retire.

Twelve years after the alleged abuse, Sean McIlmail chose to come forward and accuse Brennan in court. In September 2013, the District Attorney’s office filed multiple rape and sex-abuse charges against Brennan for allegedly abusing McIlmail, beginning in 1998 when he was an 11-year-old altar boy and lasting until he was 14. But after McIlmail’s death, the criminal charges had to be dropped.

McIImail’s death terminated the criminal case, but not wishing to let the matter rest, the family chose to file a civil wrongful death lawsuit.

Wrongful death lawsuits are never easy for the survivors of a catastrophic loss. However, a civil lawsuit makes their voices heard. It often allows families to move forward and deal with the loss, while seeking justice against defendants. For McIlmail’s family, the wrongful death lawsuit may finally prove Brennan’s egregious actions and prevent any other related deaths.

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