One of 26 Roman Catholic priests suspended from ministry last year for possible child misconduct has been criminally charged with sexually assaulting a 10-year-old altar boy in a Northeast Philadelphia church in 1997.

The Rev. Andrew McCormick, 56, was arrested at his parents' Pottstown home Thursday night. He was ordered held on $150,000 bail at an arraignment Friday.

District Attorney Seth Williams said at a news conference that McCormick had started "grooming" the boy in the fall of 1997, while serving at St. John Cantius parish in Bridesburg, and sexually assaulted him that December. He said it appeared that the priest had groomed a number of altar boys there, and he urged any other abuse victims to come forward.

At the time of his suspension in March 2011, McCormick was pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Bridgeport, Montgomery County. He had previously served at St. Adalbert's in Northeast Philadelphia and St. Bede in Holland, Bucks County.

He was charged with indecent sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, sexual assault, indecent assault, indecent exposure, endangering the welfare of a child, and corruption of a minor. A preliminary hearing is set for Aug. 17.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia said Friday that its suspension of McCormick 16 months ago was based on allegations unrelated to this one, which it called "new to the archdiocese."

McCormick made a number of trips to Poland with parish boys, according to Williams, who said investigators believed he might have molested several.

Capt. John Darby, commander of the Special Victims Unit of the Philadelphia police, said the alleged victim came forward in December, encouraged by news coverage of the abuse scandals in the archdiocese and at Pennsylvania State University.

"I applaud the courage of this young man," Williams said. "He was able to do what, sadly, so many other victims of sexual abuse have not been able to do - come forward and tell the police."

The archdiocese gave police a list of possible contacts McCormick might have had with minors while at St. John Cantius, and investigators have interviewed 15 of them, Darby said.

James Carpenter, head of the Family Violence Unit of the District Attorney's Office, said McCormick was "known to the archdiocese" because of a report of a 2004 incident, on which he did not elaborate.

McCormick also was among 37 local priests identified by a 2011 Philadelphia grand jury as serving in ministry despite accusations of sexual abuse or other inappropriate behavior with children.

Ordained in 1982, McCormick had been pastor at Sacred Heart for six years.

"We're very sad," said Theresa Mann, the parish organist, as she wiped away tears Friday afternoon. "If he did something with a child, then I feel for that child," she said. McCormick was "well-liked, very friendly," Mann said.

Mann was one of dozens of parishioners setting up the parish's annual Polish festival, its major fund-raiser, which opened Friday evening. The parking lot behind the parish school was filled with booths and tents and signs reading witany, a word for "welcome," and smacznego, meaning "enjoy your meal."

A middle-aged woman standing with Mann also spoke warmly of McCormick. She said that she had injured her leg in a fall in March 2011 and that McCormick had come to her home to give her Holy Communion.

"I invited him to stay," she said, "but he said, 'I have to go.' " She later heard that Archbishop Justin Rigali had that day ordered him removed from ministry.

The Rev. Tadeusz Gorka, parochial administrator of Sacred Heart during McCormick's leave, would not comment. The parish has about 1,400 registered members.

McCormick has surrendered his passport, according to prosecutors, and if freed on bail will be obliged to stay away from children or youth.

Since Rigali placed him on leave last year, McCormick has not been permitted to exercise his public ministry, administer sacraments, or present himself publicly as a priest.

Following the grand jury report in February 2011, Rigali swiftly appointed former Philadelphia prosecutor Gina M. Smith to investigate allegations against priests. Some were deemed too frivolous to pursue, but based on her recommendations, the cardinal placed 26 on leave.

Rigali's successor, Charles J. Chaput, has returned seven priests to ministry and removed seven, based on the advice of Smith's team and the 12-member archdiocesan review board.

The cases of 11 suspended priests remain unresolved. Some are under review by local district attorneys' offices, according to the archdiocese.

Williams said anyone with a sexual abuse allegation should call the Special Victims Unit at 215-685-3252 or the District Attorney's Family Violence and Sexual Assault Unit at 215-686-8080.

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