The judge left intact misdemeanor charges of indecent assault, child endangerment, and corruption of minors. The ruling sent prosecutors scrambling to repair the case.
Assistant District Attorney Jim Carpenter, who heads the office's Family Violence Unit, rushed back to the courtroom with Assistant District Attorney Jack O'Neill to again plead that the tougher charges were valid under the law.
When Simmons denied their request to amend the charges, prosecutors said they would appeal to a Common Pleas Court judge.
"The commonwealth is very confident that all the felony charges will be reinstated," said Tasha Jamerson, a spokesman for District Attorney Seth Williams.
The developments were an unexpected setback in a case that grew out of the wide-ranging grand jury investigation into sex abuse by Archdiocese of Philadelphia priests.
McCormick, the 56-year-old former pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Bridgeport, Montgomery County, was one of two dozen clerics suspended last year after the grand jury claimed the archdiocese had left priests in ministry despite credible accusations of child-sex abuse.
Seven of those priests have since been removed. McCormick is the only one to have been charged.
Church officials say the case is unrelated to a misconduct allegation against McCormick that led to his suspension. His accuser came forward last year.
The former altar boy's testimony was expected to be sufficient to persuade a judge to hold the charges for trial. Prosecutors typically face a low evidence bar in preliminary hearings.
McCormick's accuser, now 24, testified that he was an altar boy at St. John Cantius in Bridesburg in 1997 when the priest invited him to the rectory after he served a Sunday evening Mass.
According to the witness, McCormick fed him two cookies and a Dr Pepper soda, then guided him to the priest's upstairs bedroom.
The young man didn't resist. "I was always a curious kid," said the witness, a slight man with light hair.
(The Inquirer does not publish the names of alleged sex-crime victims without their approval.)
There, he said, McCormick shed his clerical robe - one with 32 buttons, according to the witness - and was left standing in blue-plaid boxers. After touching and groping the boy, McCormick straddled him and twice thrust his penis against the boy's lips, he testified.
Then the priest ordered him to leave, he said.
McCormick, wearing a black suit and his white clerical collar, sat passively with his eyes down as his accuser testified.
His lawyer, Brennan, asked the former altar boy why he did not scream or try to leave during the alleged assault.
"As a 10-year-old child, I was in shock," he replied.
After the hearing, Brennan would not say whether the priest denied the allegation. But the lawyer said he planned to challenge the accuser's credibility at trial. He noted the man struggled to recall exactly when the alleged attack occurred and that he continued to serve as an altar boy.
Brennan also questioned the man's decision to remain silent until 2011.
McCormick remains free on bail.
Contact John P. Martin at 215-854-4774, email@example.com, or follow @JPMartinInky on Twitter.
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