Former priest at Bridesburg church charged with sexual assault of boy, 10

A former pastor of St. John Cantius Church in Bridesburg has been charged with the 1997 sexual assault of a 10-year-old altar boy in the parish rectory.

Philadelphia police arrested the Rev. Andrew McCormick, 56, in the Pottstown area on Thursday, July 26 after a seven-month investigation by members of the Special Victims Unit and the District Attorney’s Family Violence and Sexual Assault Unit.

The victim, who is now 25, reported the alleged assault to police in December after relatives persuaded him to take his complaint to authorities rather than the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

According to Capt. John Darby of the SVU, the victim reported that he was a student at the parish elementary school and an altar boy when McCormick began making personal “contacts” with him that “culminated in late fall or early December 1997 where, inside the rectory of St. John Cantius, sexual contact was made.”

Darby declined to describe the nature of the sexual contact. The charges against McCormick include involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, statutory sexual assault, sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child, corrupting the morals of a minor, indecent assault and indecent exposure.

Despite the passage of time between the incident and the victim’s complaint, the arrest comes well within the applicable statute of limitations, said Assistant District Attorney Jim Carpenter.

District Attorney Seth Williams said that authorities are investigating whether McCormick abused other children.

“This defendant had a pattern of grooming altar boys and taking them on trips to Poland,” Williams said.

The DA did not elaborate on what premise McCormick used for arranging those overseas trips.

In the sexual assault victim’s case, McCormick allegedly befriended the victim’s family and manipulated the victim after the assault to prevent him from reporting it.

“It’s a theme that repeats itself [In clergy abuse cases],” Darby said. “The victim hesitates because [McCormick] is a person of authority who acquires the confidence of the family and the community. [The victim] is put in a position where he feels [he did] something wrong.”

McCormick allegedly preached to the victim, ‘“Masturbation is a sin; homosexuality is a sin; pre-marital sex is a sin and lying is a sin,”’ Williams said.

The victim chose to come forward after seeing news media coverage of sexual abuse cases involving Penn State University and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, according to Williams. He also expressed an interest in exposing McCormick for the benefit of other potential abuse victims, Darby said.

McCormick’s arrest came two days after a judge sentenced another former archdiocesan priest, Monsignor William Lynn, to serve three to six years in prison for shielding child-molesting priests from criminal prosecution during his tenure as the archdiocese’s secretary for clergy.

Authorities have not suggested any direct connection between McCormick’s clerical assignments and Lynn.

McCormick 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.

According to Williams, unrelated allegations of misconduct against McCormick were disclosed in the grand jury report involving clergy abuse released by the district attorney’s office in February 2011. As a result of the grand jury findings, the archdiocese placed McCormick on administrative leave in March 2011. Since that time, he has been prohibited from exercising public ministry, administering sacraments or presenting himself publicly as a priest.

The 1997 incident involving the 10-year-old victim was not mentioned in the grand jury report.

“This allegation came subsequent to [the grand jury report],” Carpenter said.

The prosecutors did not detail the prior allegations against McCormick, who has most recently been living with his parents, Williams said.

Upon learning the news of McCormick’s arrest, several local alumni of St. John Cantius school contacted by Star declined to comment.

However, Susan Maria Hoagland, 28, from the class of 1998, who worked as a volunteer under McCormick in the rectory, said it may be too soon to pass judgment.

“All three of my brothers were altar boys, I was in the Children of Mary Society. Our family volunteered quite a bit,” she wrote in an email to Star.

“Father Andy oversaw a lot of events. On frequent occasions I was in the rectory stuffing envelopes or doing other volunteer tasks. Father Andy was always good for advice and guidance and took care of his altar boys by passing on discounted and free Phantoms tickets, doing annual trips, et cetera. The accusations are saddening, and I never say never, but I am sure I am not the only one who finds these allegations hard to [believe],” Hoagland wrote.

The former student, who now lives in Ohio, was asked if there were ever any hints or rumors that improper activities might have occoured while she was a student there, Hoagland said McCormick’s arrest comes as a complete surprise.

“There were never any rumors that I heard. Not a single one…I have a very hard time believing that these charges are true,” she said.

McCormick was released from police custody Friday on $150,000 bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for August 16.

Authorities advise victims of sexual assault to call the police’s Special Victims Unit at 215–685–3251 or the DA’s Family Violence and Sexual Assault Unit at 215–686–8080. ••

Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215–354–3031 or wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

Star reporter Hayden Mitman contributed to this article.