New Orleans SNAP Reacts To Archbishop Aymond Adding Fr. Brian Highfill to the List of Credibly Accused Clerics
Dr. Scot Brandner and I grew up in the same St. Catherine of Siena parish neighborhood in Old Metairie in the 1970’s. We were both altar boys, though he was a couple of years older, and we never met. Our paths crossed in the mid 90’s at Ochsner Foundation Hospital where I was a medical social worker, and he was an anesthesia resident. Although we never met, I heard about his tragic suicide that shocked the entire community. Scotty was beloved by everyone who knew him.
Fast forward 25 years…as a volunteer leader with Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), I meet Michael Brandner, Sr - Scot’s older brother. Mike shared with me the heart-wrenching experience of finding his brother lifeless hours after he committed suicide. Almost thirty years later in 2020, Mike confides in me that he discovered love letters written to Scot by Fr. Brian Highfill, who was in charge of the altar boys at St. Catherine. Mike suspected that Fr. Highfill sexually abused his brother, which no doubt contributed to his decision to end his life. Mike reached out to a friend of Scotty’s to inquire if this suspicion was correct. This friend indeed confirmed that Fr. Highfill abused Scot for years, beginning as an altar boy at our boyhood church in Old Metairie.
In the 1970’s Archbishop Phillip Hannan moved Fr. Highfill from St. Catherine to other parishes within the Archdiocese of New Orleans. The priest then worked as a chaplain in the US Air Force in Alexandria, LA. Fr. Highfill is currently in the diocese of Las Vegas. He still remains a priest under the supervision of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. We think this is a travesty.
Mike met in person and spoke with Archbishop Gregory Aymond on the telephone many times over the past several years. He asked the Archbishop to open an investigation into Fr. Highfill’s alleged sexual abuse of his brother and other youths. Archbishop Aymond’s continuous denial of any possibility that his priest committed these crimes did not deter Scot’s older brother. He contacted officials in the Archdiocese of the Military and in the diocese of Las Vegas. The long years of Mike’s tenacious and unwavering attempts to expose the truth of Scot’s death have led us to Aymond finally acknowledging Fr. Highfill as a “credibly accused abusive” cleric - two and a half decades after the death of Scot Brandner. Two weeks ago, another abusive deacon was added to the same list. At SNAP, we are convinced that there will be more additions down the
How many brothers, sisters, friends, and family members have we lost to suicide as a result of being sexually abused by priests, deacons, and nuns? The pain of living with this tragedy is unbearable. For many of us, we bury the memories and use denial as a coping strategy. Some of us turn to substance use to dull the recurring images, memories, and emotions of childhood sexual trauma. We keep these secrets from our loved ones until we can’t anymore, which leads to another level of shame and embarrassment. Children who were sexually abused lose the ability to trust. We keep the pain of abuse hidden deep inside because we don’t want to share that pain with the people who love and trust us. Any survivor will understand this.
The addition of Fr. Brian Highfill to the New Orleans list of “credibility accused clerics” is bittersweet. The Archdiocese of New Orleans, the Archdiocese of the US Military, and the diocese of Las Vegas have had complaints about this priest for 40 years. How many other Scot Brandner’s did this wolf in sheep’s clothing abuse? Studies show that pedophiles can have up to 200 or more victims until they are stopped. Survivors and our parents were groomed prior to the actual abuse. That is how access and trust was accomplished so that Fr. Highfill and clerics just like him were able to abuse innocent children. Their brother priests, pastors and bishops turned a blind eye to this criminal behavior, which should infuriate every Catholic. Its 2020, and we have finally stopped Fr. Highfill. He can no longer be protected by his Archbishop.
It’s long past time for law enforcement to arrest and prosecute the sex crimes perpetrated by this man. Those who were victimized should contact the district attorney in the place where the abuse occurred. It may be too late to prosecute your case, but your report could help someone else and is definitely a step on the path to healing. SNAP supports you. We also know that there are other brothers, sisters, and parents like Mike Brandner. Please feel inspired by this man’s perseverance to seek a measure of justice for your loved one. Mike is too humble to accept praise, but he is also determined to continue to fight for justice for me and the rest of us out there.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)