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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. Run4hilS

    I agree with K21H

    September 25, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
  2. Run4hilS

    @atheistrules & ken

    No God? Go ahead and prove it. We are all waiting...

    September 25, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  3. David Pierre

    Yes, we got it. Priests abused minors, and bishops failed to stop the harm. Yes, the story of this victim is incredibly sad and angering. But this story is just the same narrative we've been hearing ad nauseum for the last 20 years, except the names are different. There is absolutely nothing new here.

    There are massive abuse AND COVER-UPS happening in our public schools TODAY, yet the media continues to harp on cases in the Church from DECADES AGO. Why?

    (See my book 'Double Standard: Abuse Scandals and the Attack on the Catholic Church' for the facts on this.)

    September 25, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
    • Kate

      @David Pierre

      So basically what you're saying is that one priest abusing one kid is the same as 100 priests abusing 1000 kids, and we only need to know about it as some sort of abstract overview?

      You know, the sort of overview that dehumanizes and depersonalizes the assault on each individual, so it's easier for your conscience to deal with it?

      Get over it. Every one of the victims was an individual. Even if their stories were word perfect the same in each case, we deserve to know about each of them, and each of the priests the Church aided and abetted in their abuse.

      No-one is making you read the news – just as none of us wants to read your moldy old book, you self-serving <redacted>

      Just sayin'

      September 25, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
    • P Boire

      you're so right David. The abuse rate is estimated to be ten times as bad in the public system, yet no-one is doing any brave new reporting there. No. Defrocking a priest who had been reported immediately convicted and who was already in jail is supposed to show that Cardinal Ratzinger wasn't doing his job. What a farce. This is reporting? It's hate mongering. Until the mid eighties psychiatric treatment was considered effective and was sought as was considered proper. There were inadeqaucies and failures but mostly it was good people dealing with complex and difficult issues. Many victims abhorred public exposure in public trials as any policeman can tell you. Should the kids and parents have been dragged in anyway?

      September 26, 2010 at 1:43 am |
  4. Babymommablog

    This makes me sick to my stomach!

    September 25, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  5. Maybe

    I would not be surprised to hear that the pope has done more than just facilitate for pedophile priest to remain in the church. I would not be surprised to hear that he abused kids too. He seems far to gentle with the perpetrators and he seems to do very little for the victims. It took him way too long to say the first public "I am sorry"?

    September 25, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
  6. Veritas

    So the pope is guilty of following Canon Law, imperfect though it was at the time. Would CNN prefer the arbitrary rule of one man, for good or ill? I thought Western civilization had moved beyond that.

    September 25, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      I don't care what CNN prefers and I don't think this is about CNN. Trying to blame CNN for anything is just more and more deflection from a fact: the catholic church in general and pope-a-dope specifically did *not* do the right thing to protect innocent children. That's the fact – the *rcc* must deal with it, and much better than they have so far. My preference would be, as stated elsewhere, for *every* case, no matter how slim, to be turned over to the police. The rcc cannot be trusted to deal with this!!

      September 25, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  7. Frac

    There was no wrong doing on the part of Cardinal Ratzinger. Defrocking is not a punishment folks. Being removed from ministry is what you do with pedos and thati s what happened.
    The guy was already pulled from ministry that is his punishment. CNN would rather look to attack the Church from any angle, no matter how irrational it is.

    September 25, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  8. Michael

    I began an affair with my best friend with I was 14. It remained a secret for four years. He was killed in a car accident when I was 18. Not having anyone to talk to or with whom to share my grief, as a last resort I went to confession knowing that the priest couldn't tell anyone what I told him in the confessional. I poured out my heart to him. After listening he asked a few questions then gave me a penance and told me to come to the Rectory later that evening for counseling. I didn't think that odd at the time considering what I'd told him. My "counseling" consisted of the priest attempting to seduce me. Unlike the young boys abused by pedophile priests I was a self-aware gay 18-year-old. All I felt at the time was an all consuming anger and betrayal. I have never entered a Catholic church again.

    September 25, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  9. Peter

    just wondering if any pastor, rabbi, or anyone of any faith other than catholic has ever been a child molester. funny how you showcase the catholic faith and it stays on your website for days but never a rabbi...........maybe I will convert so that I can be perfect. I am totally against ANYONE molesting children as I have three kids and serve grandchildren. but can you please not be so blatant in your finger pointing of the Cathoulic faith? give it a break!

    September 25, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
    • Illalung

      Peter, please get the big picture – this relates to any child molester, it doesn't matter the religion/who/where the person is from – it is the act they committed – against an innocent child.
      We need to talk about this subject. This just happens to be a story about a Catholic priest, how about Pastor Long? The list is endless – this story just happens to be about a catholic molester.

      September 25, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
    • Peter

      I just wonder if any other gaith has ever abused innocinet chiledren? It must be just those dasrn catholics who control the press and decide what is published and how long we want to leave it on the front page of the internet. I am a catholic but I find it really strange that hardly any religion is ever highlighted as having abused anyone. Hang every priest who has ever abused an innocent child. but at the same time, dont make it look as though it is only the catholic priests that have abused innocent children. Shame on them all.

      September 26, 2010 at 10:22 pm |
  10. Illalung

    I guarantee you, every crime committed is related to abuse, children are not born 'bad', every person on this planet has a history. As we become adults we will learn we have choices, I have been questioned "why are there homeless people on the street"? That is the choice they make, they may not know how to get help or the people who had power had abused them so they do not trust anyone.
    Matt just keep going with what you are doing, your story will benefit others. In America you get more 'news' time than being a Canadian, use that power.

    September 25, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  11. atheist rules

    who is god????where the hell is he????? lol keep dreaming losers

    September 25, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  12. Petel2

    Than you CNN. I only wish you would expose the while truth. Bet there wouldn't be any catholics left.

    September 25, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  13. Petel2

    I agree, many criminals say they are sorry, after they have been caught.

    September 25, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  14. Illalung

    Just a suggestion...get rid of Alter boys.
    Why does the Catholic Church need alter boys, its sad enough they walk around with big skirts.
    I think being a Catholic priest is the safest way to promote being a pedophile? Does that make sense?

    September 25, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  15. Smc

    This "the Vatican is its own country" business shouldn't preclude these priests from being handed over to OUR authorities and punished according to OUR laws. If they only want to answer to Vatican laws, then they should live in Rome. But if they're going to live here, guess what, somebody who molests children gets turned over to the police and investigated–they shouldn't get a free pass to be investigated for years (or not) at the discretion of the Catholic church. We don't let other religions get away with that kind of stuff. You hear about these Middle Eastern immigrants to America where the father kills a daughter who embarrasses the family by dating outside her faith. We don't tolerate that here. He doesn't get to murder his daughter just because it's okay according to the laws in the country they moved here from. Instead, the guy gets hauled to jail and stands trial according to American law. I don't see why Catholics get their own set of rules here and why they don't have to report child molesters to the police. What a scam. What an awesome profession to go into if you've got the urge to fondle little children because you'll probably never have to face law enforcement. You'll just get called into the bishop's office and slapped on the wrist, if that. It's creepy, and I don't understand why millions of Catholics still seem to defend priests being allowed to follow a different set of rules than every other pastor and teacher in this country.

    September 25, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  16. Illalung

    Parents, please be aware or become aware of the way anyone in power grooms the child, family to trust them and once the trust is in place, the sick person will attack. I agree with KT when she states "they are placed in places where Inuit live for the remoteness, etc.", this is how the sick Residential School system began, these people were not even qualified teachers, just people in position to take advantage of INNOCENT CHILDREN.
    To Matt, the Canadian Aboriginal people were given choices by the Canadian Government for different sum payouts, I don't know if the American Government is willing to do that, please don't stop talking about this so people can heal.

    September 25, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  17. IceT

    For Christ's sake, even BP has done more to help their victims and punish the guilty!

    September 25, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
  18. WoahCA

    Dude at the top looks uncannily like the steward that jumped from a plane not too long ago. Stress!

    September 25, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  19. tuta

    I think before accusing Muslim people for terror USA should take care of there people you my call Muslim world terrorist and anything but you can not call them child molesting. Not one kid ever was molested from Muslim people only Catholic, Siko.

    I think this is the worst thing that you can do to the human, I can imagen somone attacking me but I can not see someone molesting my kid.

    do the compere, which religion is the more evil.

    September 25, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
    • Illalung

      Yes, that is why children in your religion can strap bombs around themselves as you adults teach them to be martyrs – IN THE NAME OF ALLAH, right???

      September 25, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  20. Amado

    I'm just hoping the pope used his intelligence... knowing that even doing what this guy wanted him to do... would even worsen the situation.

    September 25, 2010 at 12:14 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.