A Philadelphia judge on Monday barred prosecution and defense lawyers from making public comments during the upcoming trial of the Rev. Andrew McCormick, the Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy at a Northeast Philadelphia church in 1997.
Common Pleas Court Judge Gwendolyn N. Bright issued the gag order after a pretrial hearing began dealing with sensitive evidentiary issues, and she granted a defense motion to go behind closed doors.
Jury selection begins Tuesday in the trial of the 57-year-old priest on five counts involving sexual assault, child endangerment, and corrupting minors in an incident that allegedly occurred when McCormick was a priest at St. John Cantius Church in Bridesburg.
McCormick, then pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Bridgeport, Montgomery County, was one of 26 Roman Catholic priests suspended in March 2011 for possible inappropriate conduct with children.
None of the allegations involving his suspension by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is the subject of the trial.
McCormick was arrested by the District Attorney's Office on July 26, 2012, after the alleged victim, now an adult, came forward and said he had been assaulted. Prosecutors said the alleged victim - who was unknown to Philadelphia church officials - was encouraged to press charges by news coverage of church and Pennsylvania State University sex-abuse scandals.
Although the alleged victim came forward months earlier, McCormick was arrested just two days after Msgr. William J. Lynn was sentenced to three to six years in prison. Lynn, 62, was the first church official convicted in a supervisory role for covering up sex assaults by deviant priests.
Lynn's conviction was overturned in December. He is now out of prison on house arrest while the District Attorney's Office appeals the reversal to the state Supreme Court.
Ordained in 1982, McCormick had been pastor at Sacred Heart six years when he was suspended. He had previously served at St. Adalbert's in Northeast Philadelphia and St. Bede the Venerable in Holland, Bucks County.
Before Bright imposed the gag order on Monday, defense attorney William J. Brennan Jr. complained about the archdiocese's weekend announcement of the suspensions of two more priests - the Rev. James J. Collins and the Rev. John P. Paul - for substantiated claims of sexually abusing minors more than 40 years ago.
"I don't know how they came up with something so ponderous, and to pick the day before jury selection to make this announcement," Brennan told Bright.
Archdiocesan spokesman Kenneth A. Gavin said Monday the announcement about Collins and Paul was "independent of any legal proceeding against Father McCormick. . . . Any announcement regarding the suitability of priests for ministry takes place on the earliest possible weekend after a decision is reached."
Once a jury of 12 and several alternates is selected, Assistant District Attorney Kristen Kemp will begin presenting witnesses in a trial the court estimates will last three days.