PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A Roman Catholic priest accused of molesting an altar boy briefly took the stand Wednesday to deny the 1997 encounter, but acknowledged being reprimanded twice for having children in his private living quarters.
The Rev. Andrew McCormick's case is the latest priest-abuse trial in Philadelphia, where several priests have gone to prison for child sexual abuse. Deliberations could start Thursday to decide whether he joins their ranks.
"I never molested (the victim). I want to convince you of that. It certainly has been a devastation to me," McCormick told the jury, before an objection cut him off.
The accuser, now 26, testified last week that McCormick molested him in his rectory bedroom at St. John Cantius, a large Polish parish in northeast Philadelphia. The alleged victim said he thought he was being punished for being gay and told the jury he tried to hang himself the next year, when he was 11.
A string of former altar boys, though, testified Wednesday for McCormick including two who went on trips with him to Poland.
One said he shared a room with McCormick on one trip, while his parents had another room. Another young man said the priest gave him beer on another trip the summer after he finished seventh grade. Both men insisted McCormick had made no sexual advances.
About a dozen ardent supporters have been attending McCormick's trial to support the man they knew as "Father Andy," who spent 30 years in ministry at various parishes.
The defense started its case on Ash Wednesday, a holy day that starts the Lenten season in the Roman Catholic church. At the Vatican, Pope Francis used the day to defend the church's handling of abuse complaints, drawing criticism that he has largely avoided in his first year at the helm.
McCormick's lawyers sought to discredit the accuser, suggesting he misidentified the type of underwear that McCormick wears. In an awkward moment, the priest's 87-year-old mother testified Wednesday to support the claim, saying she has bought his underwear all his life, once a year at Christmas.
Another defense witness called Wednesday has an unusual perspective on the priest-abuse issue: he was a member of the jury that convicted a church official in a high-profile case.
Mark Pasternak worked at St. John's in maintenance, coached there, and put two children through the parish school. He does not believe McCormick molested anyone.
Pasternak served on the 2012 jury that convicted an archdiocesan official of felony child endangerment for his handling of abuse complaints. Monsignor William Lynn was the first U.S. church official ever charged for his administrative failings, although his conviction has since been reversed on appeal, to Pasternak's chagrin.
After three difficult months of testimony and a fourth month spent deliberating, the jury concluded that Lynn had not done enough to weed out a priest that Lynn himself deemed a "pedophile," he said.
"If you have a dog that bites, you (can't) put up a three-foot fence," Pasternak said Wednesday.