IPSWICH — It’s been more than three decades, but the memories still come in what a prosecutor described as sharp little pieces: the sudden, unexpected kiss during a visit to the priest’s office, the nights he was woken and led to an office and forced to sit on the priest’s lap, the physical pain and emotional confusion.
The Rev. Richard McCormick told the boy that it was all an expression of love, his accuser told a Lawrence Superior Court jury Wednesday. The man he knew only as “Father Dick” told him “the church loves you, I love you, we’re one big family,” his accuser, now a 44-year-old man, testified.
McCormick, 73, is charged with five counts of child rape in incidents dating back to the early 1980s, though the timeline has grown muddy, partly due to the way the accuser now recalls the incidents, out of sequence in short vignettes, and partly due to confusion stemming from a therapist’s notes that suggested the abuse started as early as 1979.
It’s that confusion over the timeline — whether the abuse started in 1979, when the accuser was 9, or in 1981, when he was 11 — that McCormick’s lawyer is pointing to when urging a jury to conclude that it was not McCormick who abused the boy.
“My client didn’t do it,” defense lawyer Stephen Neyman said. “He’s not going to admit to something he didn’t do.”
But the accuser is certain. He testified that “Father Dick” looked like actor Alan Alda, so much so that the accuser could never bring himself to watch the TV series “MASH.” Alda was the popular star of the television show at the time.
The accuser told jurors about growing up poor in a housing project with a father largely absent and his mother, a devout Catholic, working as many as three jobs to pay for her children to attend parochial school.
“My mom is the strongest woman I know,” he testified.
There wasn’t any money for extras, said prosecutor Kate MacDougall in her opening statement to jurors. So, when his mother announced that he and his brothers were going to summer camp, it seemed unimaginable.
Ipswich “felt like it could have been Canada; it was so far away,” to the young boys, the accuser testified. One building at what was then known as Sacred Heart Retreat, operated by the Salesian Society, a religious order to which McCormick belonged, “looked like a castle.”
The camp, with rolling lawns, fields, a pond and a room full of games, offered everything a boy that age could want, the accuser recalled. It was nothing like the urban housing project where they lived.
The accuser, who, like his brothers, had been an altar boy, thought nothing of Father Dick asking him to go to an office to talk.
But during the second visit, “he grabbed my chin” and kissed the boy. As he recalled the incident, he began to cry, one of several times he would break down on the witness stand. “It was weird ... I mean, he’s a priest; he’s sacred.”
The priest then told the boy, “This is between us, this is normal, this is how we show affection,” the accuser recalled. “We don’t have to tell anybody.”
“It was so odd,” he said. “I just didn’t understand what it was.”
Then, a couple of nights later, he was awoken by the same priest and led to a small room with a frosted glass window in the door. As the priest pulled him onto his lap, he told the boy, “This is how we show affection.”
“I’m staring at that glass door,” he testified, before breaking down again.
McCormick, still a priest but no longer in active ministry, showed no emotion as the crying accuser recounted the pain he felt.
One night when Father Dick showed up, the accuser testified, he pretended to sleep.
“He went and got another boy,” the accuser said.
That prompted an objection from Neyman and then a warning, repeated several times by Judge Mary Lou Rup, to disregard the testimony about another child.
Jurors are not being told about a second accuser, nor are they being told about a series of civil lawsuits by former students of a school in upstate New York, where McCormick was a director in the late 1970s.
During cross examination, the accuser acknowledged that after learning McCormick’s identity, recognizing the name on a list of Salesian priests and then doing a Google search for a photo, he contacted civil attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who has filed numerous lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests.
He was adamant that he wanted Garabedian to contact prosecutors.
It was a decade before anyone realized the full scope of the priest sexual abuse crisis when the accuser first told someone — his girlfriend at the time — about what had happened to him.
It was the early 1990s, and the two were thinking about marriage. He needed to tell her to explain the nightmares, he said.
Still, he didn’t know the name of the man who had abused him, until one snowy day four years ago when he once again searched online and turned up a name, then the photo, he testified.
He was candid. “I wanted to hurt him,” the accuser told the jury.
Testimony is expected to conclude in the case on Thursday, and closing arguments are slated for Monday, following a judge’s conference.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.