Accused priest testifies in his sexual-assault trial

The Rev. Andrew McCormick exits the Criminal Justice Center after a hearing, Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012, in Philadelphia. McCormick who is accused of sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy inside a rectory bedroom in 1997 faces misdemeanor counts of endangerment and indecent assault. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
The Rev. Andrew McCormick exits the Criminal Justice Center after a hearing, Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012, in Philadelphia. McCormick who is accused of sexually abusing a 10-year-old boy inside a rectory bedroom in 1997 faces misdemeanor counts of endangerment and indecent assault. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke) (AP)
Posted: March 07, 2014

Accused Catholic priest the Rev. Andrew McCormick took the witness stand in his defense Wednesday and denied molesting any altar boys, telling a Philadelphia Common Pleas Court jury: "I want to convince you of that."

Agitated and blushing, at times talking over questions from his lawyer and the prosecutor, McCormick, 57, denied the allegation by a 26-year-old man, who said the priest sexually assaulted him in 1997 when he was a 10-year-old altar boy at St. John Cantius in Bridesburg.

"This has been a devastation to me," McCormick said of the criminal case.

McCormick's testimony, however, also undercut his defense.

Questioned by Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp, McCormick acknowledged he was twice reprimanded by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for letting boys into his private room at the rectory.

McCormick admitted that even after he was reprimanded, he continued letting boys into his room at St. John Cantius and St. Bede the Venerable in Holland, Bucks County, where he went in 2000 after 14 years at St. John.

"So you continued it after being told not to?" Kemp asked.

"It wasn't for anything social," McCormick said. "It was to carry stuff up and carry stuff down."

McCormick also acknowledged that he was among the priests investigated in 2004 by a Philadelphia grand jury looking into questionable conduct with minors.

And he admitted being one of 26 priests the church suspended from active ministry in 2011 for possible improper behavior with minors. Officials have said the current criminal case was not part of the church investigation.

McCormick was on the witness stand only 15 minutes - about two minutes of questions from defense attorney William J. Brennan Jr. and the rest by Kemp.

When the trial resumes Thursday, Kemp and Brennan will make their closing arguments. The jurors will then get legal instruction from Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright before starting deliberations.

Brennan and cocounsel Richard J. Fuschino presented eight other witnesses, including three former altar boys who described trips to Poland with McCormick. All maintained the cleric never acted improperly toward them.

The witnesses - now adults - described a priest who freely socialized with boys at St. John Cantius. They said McCormick routinely "hung out" with them at the rectory, invited them alone and in groups to his room, took them out for fast food and movies, and took three on two-week tours of Poland. Two witnesses said their parents accompanied them and McCormick; another said he went alone with his mother's approval.

Fuschino asked each several times whether McCormick sexually molested them or "did anything weird or made them feel uncomfortable." Each said no.

Kemp has argued that McCormick's socializing with boys was "grooming behavior" - warming them to sexual advances.

Kemp got Philip Blasejewski, an altar boy at St. John Cantius in 1997, to admit that McCormick provided him with alcohol and money for beer during a trip to Poland with the priest and another man in his 20s.

Blasejewski, who said he was then in seventh or eighth grade, said he remembered nothing of the trip, including whether he shared a room with McCormick or got drunk.


jslobodzian@phillynews.com

215-854-2985 @joeslobo

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