Tuesday, March 3, 2015
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.