"Do Not Let Him Hide behind His Collar"

By Ralph Cipriano
Big Trial
March 6, 2014

Associated Press/Matt Rourke

William J. Brennan, defense lawyer for Father Andrew McCormick, referred to his client's Roman

Catholic priest's collar as "the elephant in the room."

In his closing argument, Brennan reminded the jury of 9 women and 3 men that they were picked to hear this case because they said they could be impartial about the subject of a Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing a child.

Brennan reminded jurors that "Father Andy" didn't have to take the witness stand in his defense. Brennan conceded his client is "a bit of an awkward guy." Father Andy turned "beet red" on the witness stand, his lawyer admitted; the priest looked like "a deer in the headlights." But Brennan was hoping that jurors remembered what Father Andy had said, that he wasn't a child molester.

In her closing argument, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp turned Father Andy's Roman collar into a weapon to be used against him. She reminded the jury about how arrogant the priest had been with a mother who was upset that Father Andy was planning to take her son to Poland for a week, without consulting her first.

The priest's attitude was, "I'm Father Andy; you don't tell me what to do," Assistant District Attorney Kemp reminded the jury. "The defendant," she said, "wears his collar as a matter of convenience." He puts it on when he thinks it will impress people, and he takes it off when he's bringing altar boys to a PG-13 movie with sex scenes and profanity.

"Do not let him hide behind his collar," Kemp told the jury.

Father McCormick is accused of taking a 10-year-old altar boy up to his room 17 years ago in the rectory at St. John Cantius Church, and trying to force the boy into giving him oral sex.

His accuser is a 26-year-old gay man who's a business manager for a New York cosmetics firm. The alleged victim came forward in 2011, to tell his father, and then his grandfather that in 1997, when he was a 10-year-old altar boy, the priest attacked him.

The grandfather is a silver-haired former detective for the Philadelphia Police Department and Montgomery County District Attorney's Office, where he investigated sex abuse. He may have been retired, but when "Pop" heard what Father Andy allegedly did to his grandson, he took a statement and then he called the cops.

Father Andy, a priest for 32 years, was arrested and charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a child, sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, indecent assault and corruption of a minor. The priest pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

In court today, defense lawyer Brennan began his closing statement by telling the jury he was not a

Tom Hagen kind of lawyer, the kind who represented only one client, Don Corleone. Brennan wanted the jury to know he did not represent the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and he had no relationship with the archdiocese, other than begin a Catholic.

To prove his point, Brennan took a few more shots at the officials over at archdiocese headquarters at 222 N. 17th St. Brennan talked about the "archdiocese mindset" where church officials stonewalled sexual abuse of children by the clergy for decades, possibly even centuries, Brennan said, before undergoing a "sea change" in 2005.

That year, Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham published a grand jury report that exposed the depth of sexual abuse of children in the archdiocese by its own clergy. The report accused two Philadelphia archbishops, John Krol and Anthony J. Bevilacqua, of masterminding a systematic coverup spanning four decades that kept 63 abusive priests out of jail, even though they had raped and molested hundreds of innocent children.

After the 2005 grand jury report, Brennan said, the archdiocese changed its tune and immediately began throwing overboard any priest accused of sex abuse.

"They're not nice people," Brennan said of the church hierarchy. His implication was that the archdiocese had trampled on the constitutional rights of priests such as Father Andy, who was one of 26 priests suspended by the archdiocese in 2011. The suspensions followed another grand jury report in 2011 that said a couple dozen priests were still in active ministry, despite accusations involving sexual abuse, boundary violations, and other issues involving children.

"Regrettably it's a star chamber over there," Brennan said of the archdiocese.

Father Andy's suspension had "nothing to do with molestation," Brennan told the jury. The victim in this case waited some 15 years before coming forward. One day in 2011, the alleged victim was watching TV when he saw Father Andy's face flash on the screen, Brennan told the jury.

That night, Brennan recounted, the alleged victim "had a dream" that Father Andy was sexually assaulting the alleged victim's five-year-old nephew, and he couldn't do anything about it.

At 3 a.m. that morning, the alleged victim sent a text to his father saying that Father Andy had molested him. "Pop" showed up a day later to take a statement, and get the police investigation rolling.

Brennan's strategy seemed to be to put some distance between himself, his client, and the archdiocese, which has been tarred and feathered by a couple of highly critical grand jury reports. Brennan was also trying to humanize his stiff of a client by pointing out obvious foibles. Then the crafty heavyweight defense lawyer turned his attention to poking holes in the prosecution's case.

The defense had presented evidence that you'll have to consider when you're evaluating the credibility of the alleged victim, Brennan told the jury.

Associated Press/Matt Rourke

He brought up the "blue plaid boxer shorts" that the alleged victim claimed were worn 17 years ago by Father Andy. Brennan reminded the jury about the testimony of Mark Pasternak, the longtime maintenance man at St. John Cantius Church, in the Bridesburg section of the city. And how Pasternak had told the jurors about watching the church lady who for years did the priests' laundry in the basement of the rectory. The church lady laid out on a table piles of clean underwear that had name tags on it, for the three priests who lived and worked at St. John Cantius.

Pasternak "has no dog in this fight," Brennan told the jury. The longtime maintenance man testified "everybody wore tighty whities," Brennan said.

"Is this case going to rise and fall on what type of underwear Andy McCormick wears?" Brennan asked. "No." But he told the jury, "We [men] wear boxers or we wear briefs. You don't mix 'em up."

Next, Brennan brought up the black cassock that Father Andy habitually wore. The lawyer asked the jury to recall what the alleged victim had said on the witness stand about that cassock.

On the night he was attacked, the alleged victim testified, he couldn't stop staring at Father Andy's cassock. That cassock had 32 buttons on it, the victim said. During the attack, the alleged victim spent his time counting every button.

The alleged victim testified that a priest's cassock has 32 buttons on it, Brennan told the jury. "Never 33, because Jesus died at 33."

During the trial, Brennan got the priest's black cassock introduced as evidence. He issued an invitation to the jury.

"Take a look at the cassock and count the buttons," he said. It sounded like Brennan had already done it, and he was pretty confident about the result.

Beyond a reasonable doubt, Brennan kept saying. That was the prosecution's burden, and it was Brennan's job to bring to the jury's attention every other possible reasonable doubt in the case.

If Father Andy wanted to rape somebody, Brennan asked, why would he take them up to his room in the rectory that he shared with two other priests and a housekeeper?

"The kid could've screamed," Brennan said. He could have alerted the other priests and the housekeeper that there was a child rape in progress.

Brennan told the jury the alleged victim had many issues as a boy. He was coming to terms with his sexuality. "His parents' marriage was dissolving," Brennan said. The alleged victim started drinking at age 11; then he turned to drugs.

The alleged victim's story is that after he was attacked by Father Andy, he came downstairs and tried to call his mother three times on the rectory phone. When there was no answer, he walked home.

"He's remaining kind of in the belly of the beast" by making those phone calls, Brennan told the jury. Why didn't the victim run out of the rectory screaming?

In the years after the alleged attack, the alleged victim and his family stayed in contact with Father Andy, Brennan said. They even visited the priest at the parish he had been transferred to in Bucks County. Does that make any sense if what the alleged victim is claiming was true?

"The Commonwealth's trying to smoke and mirror you," Brennan told the jury. Ok, so maybe Father Andy gave another 13-year-old altar boy a beer in Poland, as was testified to during the trial.

"He probably shouldn't have done that," Brennan said. The altar boy, after all, was a minor. "But he's not on trial for that," the lawyer said about the priest.

Brennan walked from the jury box over to the defense table, where he stood next to Father Andy.

"If this guy's a pervert," he asked the jury, "Is that something you only do once?"

Brennan reminded the jury that during his 14 years at St. John Cantius, Father Andy had access to some 700 altar boys. In subsequent years, the priest had access to even more altar boys. Since he was suspended by the archdiocese in 2011, Brennan said, Father Andy's face has been plastered all over the news.

And yet, not one other victim has come forward, "Not even one of the nuts looking for a pay day," Brennan said.

Brennan reminded the jury that although the alleged victim in this case has not yet filed a civil suit against the archdiocese, "I don't know what he's gonna do tomorrow."

Brennan warned the jury that if people keep telling you, "It's not about the money, it's about the money."

He compared the victim's story to a pond covered with a sheet of thin ice. Don't go skating on thin ice, Brennan urged the jury. Don't swallow the "uncorroborated unsubstantiated" accusations of the alleged victim. Consider the reasonable doubt in the case. Find my client not guilty.

After Brennan sat down and the jury cleared the room, Assistant District Attorney Kemp stood to object. Kemp was upset about Brennan's claim that Father Andy's suspension by the archdiocese in 2011 had nothing to do with child abuse.

The prosecutor told the judge that a lie detector test administered to Father Andy had indicated deception when the priest was asked whether he touched the genitals of a child, and whether a child had touched his genitals.

Brennan countered that lie detector tests results are inadmissible in Pennsylvania criminal courts. He told the judge he believed the allegations leading to the priest's suspension were about pornography, but not child pornography.

Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright settled the matter by instructing the jury when they came back in the courtroom. Judge Bright told the jury that the defense lawyer's statement during his closing argument that child abuse was not the reason for Father Andy's suspension was not in evidence.

Associated Press/Matt Rourke

Assistant District Attorney Kemp stood in front of the jury and promptly tore into Brennan's argument that the actions of the alleged victim did not make any sense. She talked about Brennan's statements questioning why the victim didn't run out of the rectory. And the victim's statement that he spent his time during the alleged attack counting the buttons on the priest's cassock.

"He's a 10 year old boy in shock," Kemp told the jury in an indignant tone. "There is no guidebook."

As an example, she described to the jury an incident that happened to her when she was a kid. She found a wasp on her hands, she said, and when the wasp started stinging her, she was too stunned to let go.

The wasp stung her 15 times, she said, before "they had to pry my hands apart."

During that time the wasp was stinging her, she said, she was staring at blinds and flowered curtains. Meanwhile, she kept her hands clasped.

She returned to behavior of the alleged victim on the night he was supposedly attacked.

He's a "10-year-old boy," she said. He's figuring, "I'm in trouble; I'll call my mother. It makes perfect sense."

"That is what shock does to you," she said. "Talking about sexual abuse isn't easy."

Kemp told the jury she had warned them during her opening statement that there would be only one victim in this case.

"We have presented you with one of this man's victims," she said, pointing to Father Andy. But she hinted there may be others.

She talked about Philip Blazejewski, a defense witness who testified he was a 13-year-old altar boy when he traveled to Poland with Father Andy. While the priest and the other altar boy were in Poland, Kemp recounted to the jury, the former altar boy testified that Father Andy gave him some Polish beer.

"Philip is a 13 year-old boy," she told the jury. "Philip testified he doesn't remember what happened."

On cross-examination, Blazejewski, who had to dragged into court with a subpoena, told the prosecutor he couldn't remember much from the trip, including where he slept. The prosecutor skillfully pointed out that Blazejewski's mother was a staunch supporter of Father Andy. And that she had even sat in on a 2004 interview that Blazejewski, then a minor, had with an investigator from the archdiocese.

That testimony on cross-examination by Blazejewski prompted speculation from some courtroom observers that the former altar boy may have been covering up for the priest.

The defense's case, the prosecutor said, was not about truth. It was about "distractions" meant to divert attention from the truth. She brought up the defense arguments about soda and underwear.

One defense witness, Pasternak, the church's longtime maintenance man, testified that he only bought Coke, Pepsi and Stewart's Root Beer for the parish. The alleged victim had testified that on the night he was attacked, he had "two cookies and a Dr. Pepper" at the rectory.

Pasternak told the jury he never bought Dr. Pepper for the church, because the priests at St. John Cantius didn't like Dr. Pepper.

"The soda?" Kemp asked incredulously. "I mean come on. Or the underwear?"

Pasternak testified that when he saw the church lady doing the priests' laundry at St. John Cantius, Father Andy and the other priests all wore "tighty-whities."

"That was ridiculous," Kemp said of Pasternak's testimony. She ripped the defense team's decision to put Father Andy's 87-year-old mother on the stand. Mrs. McCormick told the jury she bought the priest's underwear for decades, and he wore only white briefs.

"Putting his mother on, that is ridiculous, that is offensive," she said. It's ridiculous to believe that a grown man in his 40s has "no other access to clothing" except the stuff that Mom buys for him.

Kemp reminded the jury that under the law, if the jury found the alleged victim's testimony credible, it was sufficient evidence to convict the priest.

The alleged victim testified that he started drinking at age 11, Kemp told the jury. He subsequently "moved up to narcotics and pills," Kemp said. The alleged victim came out as a gay man at 21, but "his abuse didn't stop," Kemp told the jury about the victim's problems with drugs and alcohol.

That drug and alcohol abuse didn't stop until 2011, when the victim "purged himself of that vile disgust inside him," Kemp told the jury.

"At a very young age tried to talk it out," she told the jury. She recounted the victim's testimony that when he was 11, he told a female cousin he had been abused. The cousin showed up in court to testify that the alleged victim had told he was molested, but he didn't say by whom.

As a senior at Archbishop Ryan High School, the alleged victim had told classmates and a teacher that he had been molested. Again, he didn't provide any further details. But a classmate who was a Marine in uniform showed up in court to testify that he remembered the alleged victim's startling confession.

"He was trying to cope with the abuse," Kemp said of the victim. She turned her argument to Father Andy's "grooming behavior" when it came to another former altar boy who testified for the prosecution, Adam Visconto.

Visconto testified that Father Andy had showered him with unwanted attention and tried to take him on a trip to Poland. His mother objected, and told the priest to stay away from her son.

Adam Visconto subsequently saw Father Andy at a funeral Mass after the priest had left St. John Cantius. At the funeral, Father Andy asked Adam and another altar boy to meet him down in the church basement. The boy told his mother, and then, he didn't show up.

"I have no idea what would have happened if Adam went down into that basement," Kemp told the jury. "I thank God he didn't go there."

Kemp talked about how Father Andy kept inviting altar boys up to his room in the rectory, even though he had been twice reprimanded for that conduct by the archdiocese.

"No, you don't have enough explanation for that," she said about Father Andy's excuse that one of those times he had an altar boy in his room, the boy was helping him move.

"That is grooming," she said of the priest's persistent behavior.

The prosecutor walked over to the witness stand, sat down, and stared at the jury.

"I want you to remember when [the alleged victim] sat here and how painful it was," she said. She repeated what the alleged victim's grandfather had told the jury, "This was never about money."

"What has [the alleged victim] gained from this process," she asked. He's had to come to court and tell strangers about "the most vile experience of his life."

Kemp told a story about a senior staffer in the district attorney's office who had mentored her. In one training session, the senior staffer told all the young attorneys in the room to prepare themselves, because in ten minutes, she was going to ask each one of them to stand up and tell everybody about their first sexual experience.

Kemp said her immediate reaction was to "turn bright red."

When the ten minutes was up, the senior staffer said she wasn't going to make anybody tell their stories. But she did want the young lawyers to realize that they now had "a small inkling" of what it's like for a victim to take the witness stand, and tell his story.

"You saw that pain," Kemp said, reminding the jury of the victim's tearful testimony. The victim's mother, Kemp said, "she blames herself." That's because the victim's mother said on the witness stand that she made the mistake of telling the priest before the attack that mom suspected her son was gay.

"Do you actually think he [the alleged victim] would do this to his own family" if it wasn't true, Kemp asked.

"He is the one with the motive" to lie, she said pointing at Father Andy. People like Father Andy, "They're charismatic people that hide behind their positions," Kemp said. "You hold him accountable for what he did."

"Do not let him hide behind his collar," Kemp said of Father Andy. "Say to [the alleged victim] he did the right thing in coming forward. Tell his mother it's not her fault."

"Tell him [the victim] the nightmare is over."

In the packed courtroom, the alleged victim was sitting in the same row with his mother, father and grandfather. Both the victim and his mother were sobbing.

The courtroom was also packed with Father Andy's supporters. They included three nuns in full habit who belong to a Franciscan order based in Krakow.

After court was adjourned, Father Andy and the nuns prayed the rosary out in the hallway.

When they were through, one of the nuns spoke to a reporter about Father Andy.

"He's a beautiful person," Sister Jacinta Miryam Hanley, provincial superior of the Sister Servants of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, told Maryclaire Dale of the Associated Press.

"He's a very chaste person, in speech and action. So [the charges are] totally foreign to his character."

While the nuns were praying the rosary, the jury was behind closed doors, beginning their deliberations. The met for a couple of hours before adjourning for the day. They'll be back at it tomorrow, when court resumes at 9:30 a.m.








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