The Philadelphia district attorney’s office has vowed to fight a Municipal Court judge’s dismissal of felony charges against a former Bridesburg-based priest accused of sexually abusing an altar boy in a parish rectory 15 years ago.
During a preliminary hearing last Thursday, Judge Karen Yvette Simmons tossed all felony charges against the Rev. Andrew McCormick and remanded him for trial on only misdemeanors including indecent assault, corrupting the morals of a minor and endangering the welfare of a child. Simmons issued her ruling after the accuser, who is now 24, testified that McCormick forced him to engage in oral sex after a Sunday evening Mass in 1997.
The DA’s office, in a printed statement released publicly via the news media later Thursday, contended that Simmons disregarded case law and the legal definitions of the applicable offenses in dismissing them.
Simmons refused the prosecution’s request to reconsider her own ruling immediately following the hearing, stating, “I heard the facts. I am familiar with the law,” according to one published report.
Prosecutors have a very low burden of proof at a preliminary hearing in comparison to a trial. They must demonstrate to the court only that enough evidence against a defendant exists to warrant a full trial. Victim or eyewitness testimony generally fulfills that burden.
Yet, Simmons dismissed charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault and statutory sexual assault against McCormick, who was pastor of St. John Cantius Church at the time of the alleged attack.
“The Commonwealth is very confident that all the felony charges will be reinstated and McCormick will then be sent to trial in the Court of Common Pleas on all charges,” the DA’s statement said.
Within hours of the preliminary hearing, the DA filed an appeal of the ruling in motions court. A Common Pleas Court judge is expected to hear the appeal within 30 days.
In the meantime, McCormick remains free on $150,000 bail and suspended from public ministry as a result of prior allegations against him involving unspecified misconduct.
According to the DA’s office and published reports, the victim testified that he was 10 years old when McCormick invited him back to the St. John Cantius rectory after one evening Mass. McCormick fed the boy cookies and Dr Pepper, then led him to a bedroom, the victim said.
McCormick allegedly removed his clerical robe and, wearing only blue-plaid boxer shorts, fondled and groped the boy. The priest then straddled the youth and twice attempted to insert his exposed penis into the youth’s mouth, according to testimony.
According to the DA’s office, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse is defined as oral sex with a child under age 13, sexual assault is oral sex without the consent of a person, while statutory sexual assault is oral sex with a child under age 16 while the defendant is more than four years older.
Prosecutors contend that McCormick’s alleged behavior fits all three charges. Assistant District Attorney Jack O’Neill is assigned to the case.
Defense Attorney William J. Brennan reportedly argued on Thursday that the victim’s account of events did not constitute oral sex under the law and that his testimony was suspect, considering the victim did not resist the invitation to McCormick’s bedroom, did not call for help, did not report the incident until recently and does not recall the specific date or month that it occurred.
The victim chose to report his abuse to police in the aftermath of the Penn State University sexual abuse scandal and the sexual abuse cases involving other Philadelphia priests.
McCormick spent three more years at St. John Cantius. He was ordained in 1982 and served at St. John Cantius from 1986 to 2000. He served at St. Adalbert in Port Richmond from 1982 to 1986; at St. Bede the Venerable in Holland, Bucks County, from 2000 to 2004; and at Sacred Heart in Swedesburg, Montgomery County, from 2004 to 2011.
Other accusations against McCormick were included in the February 2011 report issued by a Philadelphia grand jury investigating clergy abuse throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. McCormick was among dozens of priests suspended as a result of the report, although he was never charged criminally with prior misconduct.
Police arrested McCormick last month at his parents’ home in the Pottstown area.
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.