A defrocked priest from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia will head to court next month, accused of fondling two altar boys at a Bucks County church more than 20 years ago.

Francis Trauger, 74, faces charges of indecent assault and corruption of minors for allegedly fondling two preteen altar boys at St. Michael the Archangel parish in Tullytown, his last assignment before being defrocked in 2005. The incidents took place in the late ’90s and early 2000s, according to investigators.

During a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, District Judge Robert L. Wagner Jr. held Trauger’s case for trial on all charges. Wagner rejected a motion from Trauger’s attorney, Brian McVan, that the prosecution is improper and violates federal law.

McVan acknowledged that filing charges against Trauger was permissible under state law because of recent extensions to the statute of limitations, but said federal courts have ruled that judges should apply the law that was in place at the time of the alleged crimes.

“In this case, bear in mind, the allegations involve conduct in 1996 and 2000. Back in those years, the statute of limitations certainly never contemplated a prosecution in 2019,” McVan said after the hearing. “So our point is, a citizen under the federal Constitution is entitled to know what conduct is prohibited, what the consequences are in terms of the punishment, and how long the statute of limitations may be.”

Trauger declined to comment after the hearing. McVan would not say whether his client denied the allegations against him, only that he’s “deeply concerned about what has happened here.”

District Attorney Matthew Weintraub said his office learned of the alleged assaults when contacted by the archdiocese in August 2018. The two victims, now 31 and 35, had filed claims through the archdiocese’s victim compensation fund, and church officials were required by law to notify prosecutors.

Because of a 2005 change in state law, the statute of limitations for filing criminal charges in cases with victims who were sexually abused between 1993 and 2003 extends until their 50th birthday.

“I can only imagine the shame and horror they felt then,” Weintraub said in September. “Trauger will pay for what he did to them.”

In announcing the charges against Trauger, Weintraub said he believes that Trauger victimized more people and urged any additional victims to come forward.

Trauger was named in a sweeping grand jury report of sexual abuse by Philadelphia clergy compiled 15 years ago by then-District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham. His removal from the priesthood stemmed from an unspecified abuse claim that was substantiated by the archdiocese, according to church records. Trauger was not prosecuted as a result of that investigation because of the statute of limitations in place at the time.

The Philadelphia grand jury report said Trauger took young boys on overnight trips to the Poconos, where he shared a bed with them and touched them inappropriately. One accuser said Trauger locked him in a conference room at his high school to discuss homosexuality, touched him inappropriately, and made threats against his family.