- Associated Press - Thursday, February 27, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A former altar boy testified Thursday that he thought he was molested by a Roman Catholic priest as punishment for being gay.

He said he tried to hang himself at age 11 as he struggled with guilt over the alleged 1997 encounter.

“I remember trying to hang myself a lot. … Probably every week,” the young man testified in a Philadelphia courtroom in the trial of the Rev. Andrew McCormick. “I couldn’t deal with the guilt of what had happened, or what I am.”

McCormick, 57, is the latest Philadelphia priest to go on trial for long-ago alleged encounters, a result of updated state laws that give victims more time to come forward. He has pleaded not guilty.

The accuser is now 26 and works in management for a high-end design label. He described his career as “successful,” but said he had struggled with drugs and alcohol for a decade.

Describing the encounter at St. John Cantius Parish, he said that he was sexually assaulted after serving Mass one evening, on a “Holy Day of Obligation,” when Catholics must attend Mass. He went to the rectory afterward for cookies, and was invited to see McCormick’s living quarters, he said.

He said the priest then undressed and fondled him and tried to engage in a sexual act.

The boy’s mother by then suspected her 10-year-old son was gay, and had gone to the priest for counseling. The priest’s warnings to the boy about homosexuality made him feel “horrible,” the accuser said.

“If it’s a sin, it means I’m going to hell,” he said, his voice breaking at times.

The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are the victims of sexual assault without their consent.

Defense lawyers questioned why - if their client is a predator - no one else had come forward to accuse him. McCormick worked at a small Polish parish in northeast Philadelphia, and sometimes took boys to Poland.

Defense attorney William J. Brennan asked jurors not to pre-judge McCormick because of other abuse cases involving priests.

Philadelphia prosecutors have been investigating priest-abuse reports for more than a decade and have won several convictions. The most notable case, the child-endangerment conviction of Monsignor William Lynn, who long handled abuse complaints for the archdiocese, was recently thrown out on appeal. However, prosecutors have asked the state Supreme Court to reinstate it.

Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp told jurors not to expect any smoking guns in the McCormick case. Child sex-abuse cases often pit one person’s word against the other’s.

“This isn’t CSI, where some hair fiber is going to break the case,” she said, referring to the popular TV crime show.

The trial attracted about a dozen supporters each for McCormick and his accuser, and is scheduled to last through the end of next week.

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