By Ralph Cipriano
Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright asked Father Andrew McCormick if he was making his decision not to testify in his own defense of his own free will.
"I am," the 59-year-old priest said.
It was the only time "Father Andy" has spoken in the courtroom since he pleaded not guilty to five sex abuse charges.
The jury did not hear Father Andy's brief answers; they were in the back room on a break. And when it comes time to decide the priest's fate, the jury of 10 women and two men will have to try and reach a verdict without ever hearing a word from the defendant other than his repeated plea of "Not Guilty."
Defense lawyer Trevan Borum told the judge that the decision for the defendant to not take the witness stand was "based on the Commonwealth's evidence," or presumably lack thereof. There is no physical evidence in the case, only the words of the alleged victim about an incident that supposedly happened behind closed doors of a church rectory 18 years ago.
But another factor in Borum's decision had to be Father Andy's disastrous performance on the witness stand a year ago during his first trial. William J. Brennan, Father Andy's previous defense lawyer, conceded to that jury in his closing that Father Andy was "a bit of an awkward guy" who turned "beet red" on the witness stand and generally looked like "a deer in the headlights."
In Father Andy the sequel, the deer in the headlights has been written out of the script.
The rest of the defense's case, which began with the testimony of a former altar boy on Tuesday, was over in a few hours today.
The evidence presented today included three more former altar boys and a former female member of the Children of Mary who basically testified that Father Andy didn't molest me.
Also, a former church maintenance man told the jury that all the priests at St. John Cantius Church, including Father Andy, wore tighty-whities. And not the blue plaid boxer shorts that the alleged victim recalled seeing under Father Andy's black cassock.
The first defense witness of the day was Derrick Raguza, a 45-year-old fundraiser for a religious shrine who's a former altar boy at St. John's. Raguza testified that he went with Father Andy on a trip to Poland.
In Poland, Father Andy took the altar boy to see some churches and the former concentration camp at Auschwitz.
Raguza testified that in Poland he shared a room with Father Andy and the most disturbing thing that happened was, "Father snores."
When he became a high school student, Raguza testified, he came back to St. John's to ask Father Andy to help tutor him in Latin.
Robert Gumola was another 45-year-old altar boy who testified that Father Andy took him and five other altar boys on a ski trip to the Poconos.
Yes, the witness said, he'd been up to Father Andy's room in the rectory but it was only to "help him carry furniture."
Michalina Goral, 31, told the jury about the Children of Mary, the female counterpart to altar boys back in the 1990s at St. John Cantius, in the days before girls were allowed to become altar servers.
Besides supervising the altar boys, Father Andy was in charge of the Children of Mary, Goral testified. She brought along a scrapbook of old photos that showed Father Andy with his arm around Goral's sister at her first Holy Communion. And Father Andy taking the altar boys and the Children of Mary girls on a trip to Great Adventure.
Goral told the jury she went along with Father Andy and the Children of Mary to visit elderly parishioners at nursing homes. Under Father Andy's direction, Goral testified, the Children of Mary cleaned the church, had pizza parties, and marched in processionals.
The photos were from 1997, 1998 and 1999, around the time the alleged victim in the case was an altar boy at St. John Cantius. The alleged victim claims that one night after Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation in 1997 the priest lured the 10-year-old altar boy up to his room in the rectory and then attempted to stick his penis in the boy's mouth.
Coral worked as a volunteer at the rectory during the late 1990s. She testified that Father Andy was always receiving visitors there including parents and returning altar boys who were high school students.
"Father Andy was very social and very outgoing," Goral told the jury.
On cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp pointed out that Father Andy looked about 30 pounds heavier in the pictures and that "a lot of that appears to be in his belly."
Goral agreed with the D.A.'s observations.
The next witness was Mark Pasternak, 56, a former longtime church maintenance worker at St. John Cantius.
Pasternak testified that while working at the church he noticed the lady who did the priest's laundry stacking clothes on top of a table in the church basement.
"I saw piles of clothes with priests' names on it," Pasternak testified.
And all the priests' underwear was white, Borum asked.
Yes, Pasternak said.
See any blue plaid boxer shorts, Borum asked.
"That's not what I saw," Pasternak told the jury.
On cross-examination, Pasternak conceded that he was a close friend of Father Andy's.
But he's more than that. Pasternak knows a thing or two about sending a priest to jail. He was one of 12 jurors who convicted Msgr. William J. Lynn on June 22, 2012 of one count of endangering the welfare of a child.
There's a gag order up so Pasternak didn't want to talk to the media today. But last year, at Father Andy's first trial, he had plenty to say.
"I saw the monsters," Pasternak told reporters last year about hearing 13 weeks of hearing testimony at the Lynn trial about the worst sexually abusive priests in the history of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. "I saw what they did."
But Pasternak's take last year that Father Andy wasn't one of them.
As the church's full-time maintenance man, Pasternak was at St. John Cantius every day for 12 years. His son was an altar boy under Father Andy's care. His daughter, a classmate of the alleged victim in this case, was a member of the Children of Mary. Pasternak saw Father Andy interact with lots of boys, including his son and daughter, and their friends.
"It's not there," Pasternak told reporters last year about the evidence against Father Andy. There's "no way" the priest is an abuser, he said.
In court today, Michael O'Brien, 38, an EMT in the Philadelphia Fire Department, told the jury that when he was an altar boy he wanted to be a bishop. Because of his interest in the priesthood, O'Brien said, Father Andy, O'Brien took a special interest in him. O'Brien took two trips to Poland with Father Andy and saw the sights.
O'Brien, who worked the night before, had gone all day without sleep to testify on Father Andy's behalf.
Depending on the weather, the trial was scheduled to resume at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow with closing statements from the defense lawyer and the prosecutor. The judge will charge the jury, and after that, the case will go to the jury.