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Sex abuse victim learns of Pope's role
September 24th, 2010
09:32 AM ET

Sex abuse victim learns of Pope's role

Editor’s note: This story is drawn from CNN's one-hour special, “What the Pope Knew,” which aired Sept. 25 and Sept. 26, at 8pm and 11pm ET.

By Brian Rokus
CNN Special Investigations Unit

MORRISONVILLE, Ill. – Matt McCormick was in the seventh grade when Father Alvin Campbell gave him a ride home from a baseball game.  As they were driving along country roads, Campbell put his hand on McCormick’s thigh and “just left it there.”

It was the first time the priest had touched him. During the next three years, McCormick says, the abuse would go much further.

That was 25 years ago.  Just three months ago, he learned that Pope Benedict XVI played a role in keeping his abuser in the church when CNN told him about a letter signed by the pontiff – then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – refusing to defrock the pedophile priest.

Walking around the 1,000-person Illinois farming town where he grew up, McCormick pointed out where he was molested: inside the church school, inside the rectory, and inside the church itself.

Father Campbell was convicted in 1985 on multiple sexual assault charges. He served half of his 14-year sentence. He was released in 1992 and died 10 years later.

Before performing his duties as an altar server, McCormick and other boys were fondled by Campbell in a room just steps away from the altar.

“He thought it would be funny if we went out with erections under our gowns,” McCormick said.

Still, like other young victims of molestation, McCormick didn’t think of the priest as a monster.

“You don’t see him as a predator – you see him as a friend,” McCormick said, standing in the same church where he was abused. “You see him as somebody who supplies you with money, bicycles and games and trips ... His actions would be so slow and so subtle that by the time you realized what’s going on, you’re caught.”

Campbell would also discuss sexual topics with McCormick in the confessional.

“He used the cloak of Christianity in his role as a priest to embed himself with children of parishioners and he would molest them,” said Fred Nessler, an attorney who has represented hundreds of church sex abuse victims, including 10 who named Campbell as their abuser. “They groom children. First, luring them with the idea that they’re going to be around a priest and their parents usually think that’s a fine idea.”

Matt McCormick, age 14, in a school photo from 8th grade.

When he was 16, McCormick tried to kill himself with a knife and with an overdose of pills. His father had to break down the door to his room to save his life.

“I felt like a victim and I felt ashamed,” McCormick said.  “So [it was] denial, denial, denial until I got to the point that I could move away and not have to deny anymore because people wouldn’t ask.”

As a teenager he also drank heavily and used marijuana.

“A lot of the times he would get us into that frame of mind where you’re not quite yourself, where you’re a little out of it and that’s when the molestations would start,” McCormick said.

McCormick, now 41, is happily married. He’s received a settlement from the Catholic Church and has been one of only a handful of Campbell’s victims to speak publicly about the abuse.

But until CNN contacted him in June, McCormick had no idea that the case of Father Campbell had gone far beyond his local parish.

The priest was convicted in 1985 on multiple charges of sexual assault and sentenced to a 14-year prison sentence.  But Campbell’s bishop, Daniel Ryan, was bothered by a disturbing fact: Despite his criminal conviction and prison sentence, Campbell was still a priest – and refused to quit.

Ryan brought the case to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who today is Pope Benedict XVI. Ryan asked Benedict to forcibly remove Campbell from the priesthood.

In a personally signed letter, Ratzinger, citing Canon law, said he couldn’t defrock Campbell without Campbell’s permission – and instead suggested a local church trial, which would have taken years. It would be three more years before Bishop Ryan could persuade Campbell to request his own defrocking.

The Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, Illinois, where Campbell served his prison sentence.

McCormick was speechless when he read the letter that kept his abuser an ordained priest.

“I think common sense should supersede Canon law,” McCormick said.

Video: Watch McCormick's reaction to the letter

Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the prosecutor for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, says things have changed in the church.

“Today, Canon law has a different scenario,” Scicluna said. “This thing would not happen under [today’s] Canon Law.”

After coming to terms with his own experience, McCormick now plans to start a foundation to support other survivors of sexual abuse.

“The children are the ones who will grow up to be the parishioners that fill the pews,” he said. “They’re the ones that need the protection. They’re the ones that need the safety net and they need the supervision and it’s not there.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Pope Benedict XVI • Sex abuse

soundoff (918 Responses)
  1. Paula

    To Peter who laughs when he hears "Protestants" telling Catholics to read the bible (and adds, Where do you think you got it, sir?}
    500 AD: Scriptures have been Translated into Over 500 Languages.

    600 AD: LATIN was the Only Language Allowed for Scripture.

    So not only did the Catholic church not give us the Bible but tried to keep it in Latin only. Tyndale and others would later on get killed for translating it.
    The early followers of Jesus after the Crucifixion were known as the People of the Way for some 300 years The first Christians at Antioch were not Catholics.There were no denominations other than Jew, or people of "The Way" – aka believers in Christ Jesus.

    September 24, 2010 at 7:19 pm |
    • Brian

      It was Catholic church tribunals who decided what is the bible irrespective of what language it was written in. Catholics inspired by God decided what the bible is.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:17 pm |
    • Peacemaker

      Paula, who is your source? Translated into 500 languages???? There are not, even today that many. Please take a breath, it is historical FACT that the Bible was translated and was put together by Catholic monks. Not until Marin Luther was the Bible available to the everyday person! Do some research. Beware of falsehoods. Peace.

      September 28, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  2. tayor

    While in the UK a few weeks ago, the Pope stated that he was shocked and had no idea about the abuse. This just proves that he was in on the coverup. A true wolf in sheeps clothing, evil at its core. This Pope is just a disgrace.

    September 24, 2010 at 7:04 pm |
  3. anobody

    Wanna keep kids safe from these evil people? Keep the children as far away from organized religion as possible. With no new victims, ah, I mean followers hopefully religion will dry up.

    September 24, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
  4. tayor

    What's really troubling is just weeks ago, the Pope was in England and stated in a speech that he was totally shocked and unaware of the abuse by priests. This proves he was totally in on the coverup. A true wolf in sheeps clothing, simply evil to the core. This Pope is just a disgrace.

    September 24, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
  5. Amanda

    Reading down on the many many posts, comments, valid arguments etc......and i just want to say it's great to have the freedom to voice an opinion but its so sad and disheartening to see when the main point is lost. To me, that point being, a child, now a man, and who knows how many others, was abused and will carry that with them for the rest of their life– Period. All he and others wants to do is to protect others (innocent children, our youth, our future) from being abused and bring to justice those who were apart of that abuse or continuation thereof. No matter all the great that does occur, I cannot discount the abuse of one. We have to protect all and keep fighting the fight for everyone as we are all one and one mind together with a million others can make a difference.

    September 24, 2010 at 6:57 pm |
  6. Saly Romero

    This is a big issue in the Catholic Church and I strongly believe that all the Church leaders are irresponsible cowards for not investigating the root cause of the matter.

    September 24, 2010 at 6:57 pm |
  7. jimnf1

    The Catholic church is one of the 3 most corrupt organizations in America,beside the UN and the US congress.

    Let's see how they try to cover up the newest vatican bank scandel.

    September 24, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
  8. Smart Blondie

    The pope has publicly expressed "shock" at the allegations, yet has known about them the entire time. How can so many people follow a proven liar? One who failed to act upon known abuse of young deaf boys who could not speak for themselves, amongst many other CHILDREN. It makes me nauseous to think of those boys molested horrifically over and over, the pope knows this is going on, and still does nothing. Why is there no criminal prosecution for Benedict? Why is he above the law? Because the church says so? He is just as guilty as the priests involved.

    September 24, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  9. KS in KY

    God is cleaning his Church. I pray for the victims of this abuse and the men who abused them. Do you recall how many times the Israelites turned from God? Still, God showed them mercy. As long as imperfect people are a part of the Church, bad things will continue to happen. My heart aches for the scars left on these victims and the loss of their faith. These pedophile priests will be held accountable for their egregious acts for all eternity. Remember, millions despise the Catholic Church for what they believe it to be. Few hate it for what it really is. The actions of these pedophile priests, nor the actions of the people who did not deal properly with it, do not define the Church. The Eucharist defines our faith even when trials like these test it.

    September 24, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
  10. HotAirAce

    OOOOOOPPPS! My excuses, excuses,... post was meant to be be a reply to Kay.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
  11. cassarit

    STOP ATTACKING THE CATHOLIC CHURCH YOU ANTI CATHOLIC CNN BIGOTS

    September 24, 2010 at 5:38 pm |
    • Kate

      @cassarit

      Tell Ratzinger and his cronies to stop throwing themselves down the stairs time and time again then.

      They have plenty of creatures they're concealing they could be throwing down the stairs instead.

      Just policin'

      September 24, 2010 at 5:50 pm |
    • Smart Blondie

      No one here is anti-catholic. We are anti-abuse and pro-children. The catholic church is one of many perpetrators and facilitators of abuse. Your assumption that people are attacking all catholics is incorrect. Followers are generally well-meaning, but are often uninformed or in this instance are choosing to turn a blind eye to a horrific event. Do you honestly believe the pope knew nothing about the allegations, depsite the fact that there are letters from him instructing investigators to drop the whole thing and continue to allow priests to ruin the lives of young children? People like you are the problem, not catholics as a whole. Read the news. Find out about your precious pope and the priests under his supervision. Do you really think what went on was ok? And that the continued lies are ok?

      September 24, 2010 at 6:57 pm |
    • Brian

      Amen

      September 24, 2010 at 11:15 pm |
    • daryl

      I believe the catholic church is doing the majority of the attacking.

      October 8, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
  12. Michele

    I am Christian, raised Catholic, and what's happened is horrible. I'm skeptical about the Vatican's role and I don't for a minute buy the argument that canon law should protect a pedophile priest–if it does, the law or its interpretation is morally wrong. There is too much centralized authority in the Church, and not enough transparency–and I doubt that's going to change much. I have issues with the Church, especially some of its conservative doctrines. But the Catholic priests I have known are good men–and most are committed, genuinely spiritual men trying to do good work in their communities. Don't throw out the baby with the bath water.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
    • Smart Blondie

      Babies often grow up to be just like their parents. Priests do what the church tells them to – they follow the doctrine that has allowed this to happen, and defend the church on these issues. They may be nice people, but they do have a choice re: which church they decide to associate with.

      September 24, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
  13. redone2deth

    I guess the blog masters did not like my first post and decided to mangle the whole thing.

    Sorry it had to be this way. Deletion and distortion are valid tools for the ethical blog administrator, I guess.
    It was a stupid first post, I agree. But must everyone suffer for my mistake? Why not just delete all my posts?
    You can start with this one.
    And here I was angry about all the articles throughout the whole blog going back to the beginning.

    Live and learn.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
    • Kate

      @redone2deth

      Why do people who haven't got even the first clue how blogs work actually post to them in the first place?

      You're kind of full of yourself if you think the blog moderators actually even noticed your comment, first one or not. Speaking as a professional blog designer and administrator, please let me assure you that if they're regularly going to ignore me giving them free advice on how to fix their moderation bad words list, they're certainly not going to pay attention to your inanity 😛

      When your daddy let's you take the computer out of the driveway, let us know.

      Just sayin'

      September 24, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
  14. Pete

    As far as the children that he mentions that will grow up and fill the pews in the future: Why would ANYONE want their kids indoctrinated by an archaic, abusive church. I realize that there are many wonderful people who devote themselves to the church and sincerely want to help and would never harm a child, but I believe that people are finally awakening to the fact that we don't need religion. Teach the children spirituality....Don't give them false teachings and introduce them to a world of guilt, sin and a god that has human traits like jealousy, vengefulness and hate.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
  15. david

    to Faithfully Independent
    you hite the nail on the head

    September 24, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
  16. Chris Johnson

    So let me get this straight. Because Ratzinger followed his code of law he's at fault? He's worked to change them he's taken down an abuser who headed a huge religious order and he's met with victims of abuse. And he's at fault for following protical no matter how bad that protical might be. Whatever.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
  17. patti

    I agree with thumper and dave that priests should be allowed to marry women...the sooner the better.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
  18. mgd

    I guess Rome is even more corrupt then Washington....God bless us all!

    September 24, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  19. JT

    For those supporters of these child r@pists who keep defending them, you are truly disgusting. In your zeal to protect your pedophile infested organization, you continually lie about how it is an extreme minority of priests who r@pe children. Unbelievably, you are minimizing child r@pe! Would you behave in this same shameful way if the same organization were not your cult but some sports organization?

    We all know the church hierarchy has been protecting these child r@pists for centuries but just think how many priests turned a blind eye towards these crimes when they knew their fellow priests were r@ping children. I would contest that for every priest that r@pes children there are at least 20 others who are not r@ping children but are aware of the atrocities and do not lift a finger. They are as guilty.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
  20. Penny

    Does anyone really believe that ANY kind of God is represented by the Catholic church? Really? This mess of an organization represents some higher being? I cannot figure out how anyone could believe that, other than life time members of this church who have never given it any critical thought.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.