Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Battle Of The Altar Boys

By Ralph Cipriano
for Bigtrial.net

A couple of former altar boys duked it out in court today.

Testifying for the prosecution in the Father Andy sex abuse case was Adam Visconto, 28.

He's a special education administrative assistant who says that 15 years ago Father Andy creeped him out by attempting to lure Visconto and another altar boy down to the church basement for a secret rendezvous.

Visconto claimed that he and another altar boy, Steve Dozier, were so afraid that they ran to the parish school at St. John Cantius for safety. Visconto said that after he and Dozier told Visconto's mother and a teacher what happened, the women advised the two altar boys to run home to Adam's house and lock the door.

But the defense put their first witness on the stand today -- Steve Dozier. He's a former altar boy who's now a Pennsylvania State Trooper. And Trooper Dozier told the jury today that Visconto's story about running away to hide from Father Andy never happened.

Father Andy is a good guy who's just a "really friendly priest," the state trooper told the jury.

When he was an altar boy, Adam Visconto told the jury, he wanted to become a priest. That's why his mother asked Father Andrew McCormick to take Adam "under his wing," the witness testified.

Visconto never became a priest. He's a married father with three daughters. And today, the prosecution called him as a witness to describe his roller-coaster relationship with Father Andy. The priest is on trial for allegedly attempting to rape another altar boy lured to the priest's bedroom.

At one time, Visconto told the jury, he was close to the defendant, whom he referred to as "Father Andrew."

"No pun intended," Visconto said, but he looked up to the priest as a "father figure." Father Andy made Adam one of his favorite altar boys.

"I became Father Andrew's go-to guy," Visconto told the jury. Visconto lived near the church. So if there was a funeral or wedding to serve at, Adam was "always on call," the former altar boy told the jury. "I was dependable," the witness said.

After school, Father Andy would take Adam and other altar boys to Burger King, an amusement park, or to St. Jude's Shop, where they sold religious relics. But the priest upset Visconto's mother by frequently borrowing her son without asking permission.

Adam Visconto's mother testified on Monday that she believed Father Andy was taking her son out of class way too often to serve as an altar boy. She really got angry when Father Andy, who's part Polish, and worked in a largely Polish parish, when the priest offered to take her altar boy son on a trip to Poland. Without talking to Mom first.

That's when Visconto's mother told Father Andy to stay away from her son.

On top of mom's disapproval Visconto told the jury that he became uncomfortable when he would sit on a couch at the rectory after school and the priest would put his arm around the boy.

"There were definitely proximity issues," Visconto told the jury. So Visconto decided to "sever the relationship."

After Visconto's mother told Father Andy to stay away from her son, and Visconto distanced himself from the priest, Father Andy refused to take the hint, Visconto testified.

In 2001, the week before Easter, the former pastor at St. John Cantius died and Visconto served at the funeral.

Father Andy had left the church by then but came back for the funeral, Visconto told the jury. After the Mass, Father Andy took Visconto and Dozier aside and asked the two altar boys to meet him in the church basement because he wanted to talk to them.

Instead of obeying the priest, Visconto told the jury, he and Dozier went to the parish school. There, Visconto's mother and a teacher advised the two altar boys to take off, Visconto testified.

"We went to my house and we locked the door," Visconto told the jury.

Adam Visconto and his mother no longer wanted anything to do with Father Andy. But still the priest persisted, Visconto said. Father Andy sent the boy a card where he apologized "If I hurt you in any way."

In the priest's note, which was read aloud to the jury, the priest told Visconto, "Good luck being Jesus in the living stations."

Visconto explained to the jury that when he was an altar boy he always wanted to play Jesus during Lent when the parish reenacted the stations of the cross.

The priest subsequently drove to the Visconto's home and left a present wedged in the door, a statue of the Virgin Mary. Visconto's mother testified that even though it was the Blessed Mother, she gave the statute away.

The prosecution wasn't through presenting its case but defense lawyer Trevan Borum asked for a favor. He wanted to put Trooper Dozier on the stand because the witness wouldn't be available tomorrow when he had to work a double shift.

So the prosecution agreed and the defense went out of order to present its first witness in the case.

Trooper Dozier is a 27-year-old who attended the same parish school and served as an altar boy alongside Visconto and the alleged victim in the Father Andy case, a gay 27-year-old business manager for a New York cosmetics firm.

Borum asked Dozier if he recalled Father Andy asking him and Visconto to meet the priest in the church basement.

Dozier said he didn't recall such an incident.

Borum asked Dozier about the rest of Visconto's story; that the two altar boys had to flee the church and run over to the parish school, to seek advice from Visconto's mother and a teacher.

Do you remember a "pale and scared" Visconto being told by the two women to "run home and lock the door, Borum asked.

No, Dozier said.

Think you'd remember something like that, Borum asked.

"Yes, I think so," the trooper said.

On cross-examination, the trooper told Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp that Father Andy was a "very friendly priest," and a guy he looked up to.

You're close to Father Andy, Kemp said, and so is your mom, right?

Yes, Dozier said.

Is it possible, Kemp said, that you and Visconto had very different perceptions of Father Andy? And so you'd have different views of the priest's invitation to meet him in the church basement? After all, we're talking about something that happened 14 years ago, the assistant district attorney said.

I could have forgotten, Dozier conceded. He did recall "going down to the basement" a couple of times, but he couldn't remember anything else.

Kemp told Trooper Dozier that when she first heard that he was going to be a witness in the case, she was picking the jury. She only got to talk to Dozier for the first time a couple of days ago, isn't that true?

Yes, Dozier said. Then the trooper raised a couple of eyebrows of a few law enforcement types in the courtroom when he divulged that before he would talk to Kemp he wanted to ask the defense lawyer's investigator if it was OK.

You would think an assistant district attorney and a state trooper would be on the same team. But not apparently when it comes to Father Andy.

On redirect, Borum asked the trooper if he could remember what the investigator's advice was. To meet with Kemp and tell the truth, right?

Yep, that's right, the witness agreed.

Another witness for the prosecution today was Father Joseph J. Zingaro, who succeeded Father Andy as pastor of St. John Cantius in the Bridesburg section of the city.

Zingaro told the jury about how Adam Visconto's mother came to him to complain about the priest's unwanted attention toward her son. Zingaro said he passed along the mother's complaint to the vicar who oversees parishes in North Philadelphia.

Zingaro also talked to Visconto.

"He was uncomfortable being with Father Andy," Father Zingaro recalled. "Adam didn't want to associate with Father at the time. He didn't want to be in his presence. He avoided him. He was afraid to be with him."

What about having Visconto and other altar boys up in his room at the rectory, Assistant District Attorney Kemp asked the witness.

"There is no written policy" against that, Father Zingaro said, but it shouldn't happen.

On cross-examination, Borum asked Father Zingaro if it priests should allow young boys to stay overnight in their rooms.

"Absolutely not," the priest said.

Well, Borum said, isn't it true that back in the 1990s, when you went on vacation down to Florida with the O'Briens, a married couple, "You shared a room with four altar boys?"

The defense had done their homework.

With a dismissive shrug, Father Zingaro had to admit it was true.

After taking heavy fire for two days, the defense in the Father Andy case had finally scored a few points.

7 comments:

  1. How in the world these people call themselves "men of God" is beyond comprehension. Is there a Catholic priest that does NOT spend the night with young boys or allow a young boy to spend the night in his room? Even the "man of God" who testified under oath that priests should NOT allow boys to "stay overnight in their rooms" admits to spending the night with young boys! The defense "scored a few points" by showing that there are evidently numerous "men of God" within this religious sect who spend the night with young boys? Really? Why shouldn't Fr."A" allow a young boy to spend the night in his room or share his bed since Fr. "B," Fr. "C," etc., etc., etc... do it? Doesn't sound like a winning strategy to me.

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  2. To ask if all priests allow young boys to spend the night in their room is just as absurd as asking if all Italians belong to the mob, if all black men are thugs and if all Irish are alcoholics. Don't you see how "loaded" your question is? I am sure you do. The demonization of any group or class of people is prejudice. I thought that as a society we were suppose to move beyond stereo types? However, as Professor Philip Jenkins has correctly stated the "last acceptable prejudice in this country is anti-Catholicism. You and your ilk on this site are living proof of this fact.

    Allow me now to challenge the above poster to set aside the irrational anger he or she demonstrates and help you have a reality check. Fr. Andy is not accused of having a young boy spend the night in his room and Fr. Zingaro is not charged with any crime. If you read the article closely you would see that Visconto never said that Fr. Andy ever did anything wrong to him...simply that he felt uncomfortable around him at one point. If I remember correctly from his testimony last year, he was laudatory in his comments about this priest and began to shy away from him after he no longer expressed an interest in priesthood. L
    Regarding Fr. zingaro, as was pointed out above, he was on a vacation with a married couple and there were 4 boys with them...probably some of those boys were the sons of the coupe. Perhaps they were staying at a really small vacation place and had limited sleeping accommodations. It does not say that Zingaro slept in the same bed. In those days there were no rules concerning such things. Now no priest would even put himself in such a situation for fear of accusations.

    I had some great experiences with priests when I was a kid and am sorry that my sons will not have the opportunity to experience the same because of all this stuff.

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    Replies
    1. You may apologize or make excuses for these "men of God" if you wish. Grown "men of God" inviting young boys into their rooms and beds at night is an abomination! However, do not despair, I am certain there are some Catholic priests in your area who would love to have "great experiences" with your sons. "All this stuff" as you so callously put it is called sexual abuse of children. You say "...in those days there were no rules concerning such things." Do you really need a rule telling grown priests NOT to take other peoples children into their rooms and beds at night??? Tell me, would you allow a priest to take one (or all) of YOUR sons into his room for the night? How about letting your sons sleep in the same bed? Be thankful that "all this stuff" is the reason that most of these "men of God" are no longer taking young boys into their rooms and beds. Be thankful that YOUR children aren't the ones who were spending the night and/or sharing a bed with one of the monsters... er, excuse me, one of the upstanding "men of God."

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  3. I have to disagree with anonymous @ 5:07 when he makes the statement "Now no priest would even put himself in such a situation for fear of accusations"

    Don't you follow the news man ? Either priests are the dumbest group of individuals on the face of this earth or most not all are brain dead. You would of thought since the sins of the catholic church and its clergy came to the surface a priest would watch their back and learn from other priests mistakes but you don't see that. In the Philadelphia area alone within the past couple of days you have had priests removed. In one case the FBI is now involved. Last year you had a priest who thought it was o.k.to walk up to someone and grab the individuals genitals. That is only the cases we know about. Look at the case at Our Lady Calvary church. The parishioners were kept in the dark regarding one of their priests who had accusations of improper behavior with children, and your church claims to be transparent.

    I don't believe all priests are sick animals and your sons can still have the opportunity to experience the great things you did, but you as their father must be involved also. I think your sons would enjoy that too.

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  4. I can't see how Ralph thinks the defense scored a few points. If we look at the testimony of Trooper Dozier Ralph points out that Dozier does not remember Fr. Andy asking him and the victim to meet him in the basement, but on cross Dozier states "I could have forgotten, Dozier conceded. He did recall "going down to the basement" a couple of times, but he couldn't remember anything else.

    To me one statement contradicts the other, and raises another question if Trooper Dozier was also a victim of Fr. Andy.

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  5. Interesting to know there is zero coverage of this trial in the Inky.

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  6. Been wondering the same thing... Maybe the 2 other cases are considered "new" news by the editors. This Ex-priest should be getting equal coverage for the world to see/hear about. Thanks to Ralph for his daily updates.

    ReplyDelete

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