- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 26, 2002

When I was in Catholic school in Ocean City, N.J., I served Mass for Father Brennan, an expatriate Irish priest whose first name I didn't know then, and don't know now. I do know he was a tough and a devout man who coached our baseball team, took us to major league games in Philadelphia, yelled at us when we fouled up on the field, and didn't like to lose. He did like cigars, and I suppose he may have enjoyed a bit more to drink than the sacramental sherry. He also took it personally when you hadn't learned the Catechism.
Like us kids, I'm sure he had some hard things to tell his confessor about anger, impatience and language. But like tens of thousands of good and decent priests, whose names I likewise don't know, no one could think of this man interfering with a child, nor was there ever a hint of a whisper of that terrible sin about that man. In this time of scandal in the Church then, who speaks for Father Brennan?
Kids talk all the time and are quick to rumor. We knew Monsignor Doyle could be a nervous old biddy at Mass, that he always needed money for St. Augustine's Church, and that he could wander aimlessly in his Sunday sermons. We knew that visiting priests on summer holiday from Camden and Philadelphia often mumbled their Masses, and set records for short services to get to the beach or go fishing.
But no one that I ever knew thought any priest was strange, or would take liberties with any of us. Who speaks for these nameless, good men?
Father Brennan taught more than how to short hop a grounder, Papal Authority or what happened at the Council of Trent. He taught you humility, a sense of shame and forgiveness. In the confessional, with others waiting their turn just outside, he would frown over some particularly offensive sin and thunder, "You did what?"
The muffled laughter outside the box, and the curious stares when you left, did a lot to encourage resistance to future sin.
Father Brennan also taught discipline and motivation. Why else would a 12-year-old get up on a winter morning and cycle through the dark to serve at early Mass?
He likewise taught respect and admiration for wonderful things, those seen and unseen. Why else, after more than 50 years, do I remember so vividly the magic that took place on that half-lit altar, when with words and faith this priest changed bread and wine into Body and Blood. And not with silent or half-heard words, but with a great whisper that echoed through the dark pews; a whisper that despite my break with the church years ago, still speaks to me today.
Some believe the sexual scandal in the church is pervasive, subject to coverup, or somehow, inexplicably, understandable. Father Brennan and that great number of his fellow priests refute that thinking. Their legacy is evidence of what decent and good religious men and women can accomplish: reasonably decent kids that grow to be reasonably decent adults who love their God, one another, and want our society and the church to maintain those values.
Who speaks for Father Brennan and his colleagues? I do, with great respect and obligation. I also know that thousands of others, communicants or not, would speak for them as well.

Michael McNamara is a retired U.S. Army colonel, and general manager of Federal Israel Security Technologies LLC.

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