"He Was like a Wounded Animal"
By Ralph Cipriano
February 28, 2014
A tearful mom and dad told a jury today about the noose they found hanging in their son's closet.
They were followed to the witness stand by a grandfather who was a retired detective.
It was "Pop" who took the first statement from the alleged victim in this case, the 26-year-old man who has accused Father Andrew McCormick of sexually assaulting him back in 1997 when he was a 10-year-old altar boy.
"He was like a wounded animal," the silver-haired detective said of his grandson. "He was so filled with anxiety."
In short, it was a great day for the prosecution as three relatives of the alleged victim took turns scoring points against "Father Andy."
Dad was the lead-off witness. He talked about the 3 a.m. text he received on Dec. 5, 2011 from his son.
"Dad, I'm just gonna come out and say it," the father recalled the text message saying. "Father Andy molested me. This is the root of my problems."
The teary-eyed father told the jury about the day Father Andy asked if his son wanted to be an altar boy. At the time, the family had just moved to the neighborhood, and joined St. John Cantius Church, a Polish Catholic parish in the Bridesburg section of the city.
"Father Andy approached us and said our name in Polish," the father recalled. "I was impressed with that."
When Father Andy asked if his 9-year-old son wanted to become an altar boy, "I thought it was a great idea," the father testified. But after his son became an altar boy, he didn't act the same.
"His behavior stared to change" when he was 11, the father recalled. "He's hanging a noose in his closet."
Father and son used to go fishing, and watch wrestling on TV. But the son no longer wanted to do those things with his father. He also didn't want his father to touch him.
"He just withdrew," the father testified. "He spent a lot of time in his room."
In 2011, the father saw a news story on TV about Father Andy being one of 26 priests suspended by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for suspected inappropriate contact with children.
The father asked his son about the priest. According to the father, the son would only reply, "Father Andy's not a good man."
Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp asked the father about how the family reacted after their son told them about the alleged abuse.
"It's been a heavy burden," the father testified.
On cross-examination, defense lawyer Richard J. Fuschino asked the father if his son's personality change at 11 may have been due to a struggle over sexual identity.
Yes, the father said.
Fuschino suggested the altar boy also could have been struggling with the Catholic Church's position on homosexuality. The Catholic Church believes that homosexuality is immoral, right, Fuschino asked the father.
Yes, the father conceded.
The victim's mother testified that she originally had a very favorable impression of Father Andy.
"He was a really nice guy," she said. When the priest asked her son to be an altar boy, "I was really happy about that."
The mother told the jury how she went to see Father Andy at church to ask him to say a Mass for her late brother, who had died in a fire.
"My brother was a feminine boy," the mother testified. At that meeting, the mother said she confided to the priest, "I worry about [my son] because he's so feminine."
When her son came out at 21, his family was "totally supportive and not shocked," the mother testified.
She told the jury about her son's personality change at 11 years old.
"He started getting real bad," she testified. "I found him hanging in a closet," she said, before she broke down in tears on the witness stand.
"He used to pull his hair out of his head," she sobbed. She said she kept asking him why he was doing these things to himself.
The mother had to stop testifying; nshe told the prosecutor she thought she was going to get sick. The jury was taken out of the courtroom.
After a break, the mother returned to the witness stand.
Her son told her he didn't want to be an altar boy anymore, she testified. He also wanted out of St. John's.
"I want to get out of that school, I want to get out of that school," her son kept saying, according to the mother.
"I really liked it," she said of St. John Cantius. "We're Polish."
She couldn't understand what had gone so wrong.
In 2011, when the TV news reported that Father Andy had been suspended as a priest, the mother asked her son if the priest had ever done anything to him.
Her son denied it, she said. Her son's only criticism of the priest was, "He used to say weird stuff to us."
When she found out about her son's claim of abuse, it hit like a bomb.
"We were sitting on the couch," she told the jury. "I was out of my mind."
She began to cry as she related what she told her son: "Why didn't you tell me? Because I was always there."
That night, she testified, she drove over to the closed St. John Cantius Church, and banged on the door until a bewildered man showed up and asked what she wanted. She said she told the man forget it.
Her next move was to call her father. Her son wouldn't talk to her about the abuse, but he did say he would talk to "Pop."
"My dad kinda like took over," the mother testified. He came over the next day.
"My son didn't want me to hear anything," the mother testified. "I had to leave the house."
Her son told Pop everything.
When she came back inside, her father told her, "We're going to the police."
The prosecutor asked how the alleged abuse had impacted her family.
"It's affected us in so many ways," she testified. Her son had trouble sleeping. He had frequent panic attacks.
The prosecutor asked the mother if her son knew that she had told Father Andy she was worried her son was gay.
Mom started crying again.
Her son didn't know that happened until a recent meeting in the district attorney's office, she testified.
And what was her son's reaction to that bit of news, the prosecutor asked.
"He said," she sobbed, "I sold him out."
"Objection," said a defense lawyer.
Sustained, said the judge.
But the damage was done. It's hard to imagine the jurors will forget that line.
The mother testified her son is still too ashamed to tell her what happened with Father Andy.
"I still don't know specifics," she said.
On cross-examination, the mother was asked if she attended the Masses that her son served as an altar boy with Father Andy.
Most of them, the mother said. I may have missed a few.
"I was a church goer," she said. "I still am."
Did the kids make fun of your son because he was effeminate, the defense lawyer asked.
"I don't know about that," she said.
The final witness for the day was the alleged victim's grandfather. He's a retired Philadelphia police detective who also worked for the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, investigating sex crimes.
When his daughter called to talk about her son, "she was sobbing on the telephone," the grandfather testified.
He went out to talk to his grandson the next day.
"I immediately recognized he had been assaulted," the grandfather told the jury.
He testified he told his grandson, "You gotta calm down."
It was the grandfather who took the alleged victim to see a civil lawyer, at the advice of his step-son, who's a lawyer.
"I thought he needed protection," the grandfather said of the alleged victim.
Does your grandson plan to file a civil lawsuit, the prosecutor asked.
His grandson "never wanted to sue anybody," the grandfather flatly declared. "This is not about money."
The defense lawyers wisely decided not to cross-examine "Pop."
The case resumes at 9:30 a.m. Monday, weather permitting, in Courtroom 1102 of the Criminal Justice Center.