Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Catholic Church Sex Abuse Victim Fights Back

Last December, Keith Rennar Brennan spoke publicly for the first time about four years of sexual abuse suffered as a teenager at the hands of two Jersey City, New Jersey priests. This weekend, he will take it one step further with the local debut of his documentary Of God and Gucci at the Golden Door International Film Festival.

In both cases, Brennan's aim is to help do away with his home state's two-year statute of limitations on allegations alleging child abuse. When he testified in Trenton last year in front of a Judiciary Senate Committee, there was only one reporter present. But that's all it took:

A 48-year-old man leaned into a microphone. And delivered a bombshell. "My story began in 1976, St. Paul’s Church in the Greenville section of Jersey City," said Brennan. Speaking about his experiences publicly for the first time, Brennan, of Bayonne, recalled four years of sexual abuse by church staff, starting with Keith Pecklers, the church’s young music director. Brennan said he was 14 at the time and that Pecklers was about three-and-a-half years his senior. 
After about a year of the abuse by Pecklers, Brennan said, he reported it to the church deacon, Thomas Stanford, who then took over abusing Brennan, plying him with drugs and alcohol before abusing him repeatedly over the course of three years. "Thirty-four years have gone by but I have not forgotten a single day, a single detail of my abuse," said Brennan.

Pecklers is now a respected Jesuit scholar based in Rome, often sourced for comment by American media outlets for pieces about the Catholic Church sex abuse scandals. Stanton remained in New Jersey and worked more recently as the manager of a cemetery. In 2008, Brennan, through an attorney, submitted his accusations to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark and was able to quickly negotiate a settlement.

Evidently, this settlement does not include a provision preventing Brennan from talking about his experiences. At the beginning of Of God and Gucci, he intones: “I drew St. Paul's Church for the cover of our Parish bulletin when I was 13. Three years later, I would daydream about hanging myself in its steeple.”

The good news is that Brennan was able - despite the great personal toll of this abuse - to find professional success as a fashion designer, conceiving a clothing line for Plus-sized women and working with some name brand celebrities (hence the Gucci in the title). He is currently working on a narrative feature film screenplay version of his compelling and still evolving life journey.

Update - 03/10/13:
Brennan, who now prefers to go by just the last name of Rennar, has put together a promo reel for the purposes of pitching the aforementioned feature film version of his life story. Watch that video here.

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