Witness says priest's conduct made him 'uncomfortable'

The Rev. Andrew McCormick is charged with sexually assaulting a 10-year-old in 1997.
The Rev. Andrew McCormick is charged with sexually assaulting a 10-year-old in 1997.
Posted: March 06, 2014

After three days of prosecution testimony, the sexual-assault trial of Catholic priest Andrew McCormick moves to the defense Wednesday with the priest's lawyers saying they have not decided whether their client will testify.

On Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp completed her case in a day dominated by a former Bridesburg altar boy's conflicted testimony about his relationship with McCormick.

Adam Visconto, now 27, told the Common Pleas Court jury that McCormick was an influential spiritual mentor at St. John Cantius parish in Bridesburg. Visconto testified that McCormick "grew my soul" at a time he considered becoming a priest.

Visconto denied that McCormick ever molested him or was sexually inappropriate. But he also said he cut off contact with the priest because of what he called "proximity issues."

Visconto cited several times when McCormick put his arm around him as they sat on a sofa in the rectory and a time when, he said, the priest asked him and another altar boy to meet him in the church's basement.

"This was uncomfortable and, based on the way things were going, I didn't want to be around him anymore," Visconto said. The boys did not go with the priest, Visconto told his mother.

McCormick, 57, is accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy in his room in St. John Cantius rectory in 1997.

McCormick has pleaded not guilty, and defense attorney William J. Brennan Jr. has argued that the allegation is false and the only stain on McCormick's 32-year clerical career.

Kemp called Visconto to corroborate the fact that more people than just the accuser - who testified last week - were uncomfortable with McCormick's conduct toward boys.

Visconto, who said he knew the now-26-year-old accuser and served with him as an altar boy, said McCormick took him alone to a store to buy religious items, to a shrine to St. Padre Pio, and to a pre-Vatican Council II Latin Mass at another church.

He said McCormick also regularly took him and other altar boys out for hamburgers and, in 2000, to "an R-rated movie," for which McCormick doffed his usual garb and wore street clothes.

This information turned into a small defense victory when Brennan asked Visconto the film's title.

Brennan then showed Visconto a DVD of the film - a Harrison Ford thriller, What Lies Beneath - and asked him to read the rating to the jury. It was PG-13.

Visconto's mother, Kathleen, also testified about her souring relationship with McCormick.

Visconto said her four children were the fifth generation born into St. John Cantius parish.

At first she was thrilled at McCormick's interest in Adam because of the boy's interest in the priesthood, Visconto said. She said she asked the priest to "take him under your wing."

But Visconto said she became increasingly uneasy at the amount of time the priest was spending with her son. She said she confronted McCormick after learning he had invited Adam - but not told her - on a trip to Poland.

Visconto said she began limiting Adam's contact with McCormick. She said she stopped it when her son told her about the basement invitation.

The Rev. Joseph J. Zingaro, who replaced McCormick at St. John Cantius, testified that he recalled Kathleen Visconto's complaining about McCormick's conduct. Zingaro said he saw Adam at a church function avoiding McCormick "as if he was afraid of him."

Church policy forbids priests to have children in their private rooms in a rectory.

Even after McCormick was transferred to a parish in Bucks County, Kathleen Visconto said, the priest sent her son a card and a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Adam Visconto read the card to the jury. On it McCormick wished the boy luck in an Easter church pageant, apologized "if I did anything to hurt you," and asked for contact when the boy felt he was ready.


jslobodzian@phillynews.com

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

www.inquirer.com/crimeandpunishment

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