Jury out in sexual abuse case of the Rev. Richard McCormick
By Julie Manganis
November 11, 2014
IPSWICH — The lawyer for a priest charged with raping a boy at an Ipswich summer camp more than three decades ago suggested to jurors Monday that the accusations are motivated by one thing: money.
“What’s the motive here?” Steve Neyman, who is the Rev. Richard McCormick’s attorney, asked the Lawrence Superior Court jury during closing arguments. He recalled testimony about the accuser first speaking with a civil attorney. “The motive is money.”
But if that was the motive, argued prosecutor Kate MacDougall, wouldn’t the accuser’s story have been more complete, his gaps in memory filled in? “Why isn’t it better? Why didn’t he fill in all these gaps if it was about money?” she asked the jury.
McCormick, 73, is facing five counts of child rape stemming from incidents that prosecutors say took place during the summers of 1981 and 1982 at the camp operated by the Salesian Society of North America, a religious order in which he held a position equivalent to a bishop.
The jury deliberated for about five hours Monday before being sent home for the holiday on Tuesday. They’ll resume deliberations Wednesday.
This is the first criminal prosecution against the retired priest, who has faced a series of civil lawsuits — though none on behalf of the accuser in this case.
In 1981, no one would have thought twice about sending a child to a camp run by priests, MacDougall told jurors. “It was the safest, most responsible thing a parent could do,” she said. The accuser’s mother, a devout Catholic, had no idea she was sending her son “off to a nightmare,” MacDougall said.
It’s a nightmare he relives daily, MacDougall said. “Was that him telling a story or was that someone reliving what happened to him?” she asked the jury, recalling his emotional testimony last week.
The accuser testified that he was pulled aside by “Father Dick” and led to an office. The priest kissed him, telling him it was a way of showing love for the church, the accuser testified.
He went on to testify that McCormick sometimes woke him at night and brought him to the office or to a storage closet, where he engaged in various sexual acts.
Neyman, McCormick’s attorney, pointed to testimony from another Salesian priest who said that campers were supervised and counselors were always around, even at night, in the dorm area.
But, argued MacDougall, in 1981, “Would anyone think twice about a priest getting a boy up or calling a boy into his office? Would anyone second guess a priest? If Father was asking to get a boy, he must have had a reason.”
“It was a different time,” MacDougall said.
The allegations came to light only recently, after the accuser, now an adult, found McCormick’s name in a directory of Salesian priests, then did a Google search for the name and found an image of a priest he immediately recognized as “Father Dick.”
And that, along with the accuser’s lack of specific memory of dates, “makes this a moving target,” Neyman said.
“His story, really, unfortunately, is all over the place,” Neyman argued.
The defense has focused throughout the case on the timeline, which at one point put the abuse as starting in 1979, while McCormick was still director of a school in upstate New York (where he also faced allegations of sexual abuse, something the jury is not being told).
But as the testimony got underway, it became clearer that the incidents occurred in the early 1980s, MacDougall argued, based on the memories of the accuser’s older brother, who attended the same camp, as well as a certificate the brother had saved from camp and a photo their mother had taken during one of the summers all three of her sons attended.
Neyman pointed to the same directory and church records that show other priests with the first name “Richard” spent time at the camp in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
“We’re not saying for one second that something didn’t happen,” Neyman told jurors. “What we’re saying is that it wasn’t Richard McCormick.”
MacDougall pointed to the same records and said that there was just one person who was called “Father Dick.”
The only other “Richard” there at the time is referred to in the order’s records as “Rich” or “Richard,” never as “Dick,” she argued.
The case is one of the oldest child sexual abuse cases prosecuted in Massachusetts, due in part to a change in the law expanding the statute of limitations for such cases and in part due to the fact that McCormick lived outside the state for much of his career.
That was the basis of an unsuccessful motion to dismiss charges earlier in the case. Neyman argued that McCormick was exercising his First Amendment rights to practice his religion, which required him to move to assignments in various areas of the country, and that penalizing him by stopping the tolling of the statute of limitations while he was out of state was an infringement of that right.
At the time of his arrest, McCormick — the subject of civil suits brought by former students of a Catholic school in Goshen, New York, that were settled by the Salesians — was retired from active ministry and living in New Rochelle, New York, at the order’s headquarters.
While awaiting trial, he was living at Vianney Renewal Center, a facility for priests accused of sexual abuse, outside St. Louis, Missouri.
The jury has not been told about the civil suits, where McCormick was living before his trial, or about a second accuser who came forward after reading about McCormick’s indictment.
That case is still pending.