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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. katie

    Why did he wait 25 years before he came forward? Maybe ,for the money?

    September 26, 2010 at 10:09 pm |
  2. Jerks

    OOK Lib CNN this is old news. where is the news on the black preacher now? Hmmm?

    September 26, 2010 at 10:01 pm |
  3. Lost Sheep

    I can believe these representatives of the catholic church are such liars…..How can they claim that they could not defrock these horrible pigs when they are the heads of the church…they are the ones who can change the cannon law…and any regulations in their rites….did they not just change the Eucharistic languages?....what could be so hard as to tell a pedophile priest, “you are no longer a member of these church….you are excommunicated” and turn them to the authorities for prosecution instead of covering them up….. What I do not understand is…How can the leaders of the catholic church excommunicate a group of elderly nuns without any problem or compassion, but cannot excommunicate these criminal pedophiles? SHAME ON THESE CATHOLIC LEADERS…..they should be ashamed of calling themselves shepherds….they have become the wolves.

    September 26, 2010 at 9:41 pm |
  4. Leslie

    I saw your program on What The Pope Knew". How many priests are continuing this behavior and are not being "outed"? Was this Pope person a molester as well? Why else would he protect others? What the hell is canon law? I noticed that in his most recent visit here, he never smiled, met anyones eyes or looked up from the floor. That is not the demeanor of a guiltless person. After viewing your program, I have come to the realization that Catholic "religion" is a cult pure and simple. Prosecution is absolute now.

    September 26, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  5. Jeffrey

    There were too many unanswered questions and too many unasked questions. Sure the pope sincerely apologizes to the victims every time he ventures outside. That is a real breakthrough for a church who does not answer to earthly authority. Until such time as he agrees to turn over the list of suspected molesters to the police for full investigation and possible prosecution, he continues to aid and abet possible criminals. Why did he not get arrested when he went to UK last week? What about prosecuting the bishops who transferred known molesters to new parishes instead of turning them over to police. That is aiding and abetting. Why do we tolerate it? I believe the pope believes his priests have atoned and been forgiven for their sins and offences in the confession box. Why do we accept that?

    September 26, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
  6. Ghunt

    Bill, if one who molested you is a bishop then why haven't you made a public accusation? Why haven't you exposed him. Apparently your making it up because it would be all over the news if you had. If you have not you are just subjected more children to what you allegedly endured.

    September 26, 2010 at 8:15 pm |
    • Leslie

      Have you considered the shock and shame a victim has endured all these years> Try walking in his shoes before you criticize please.

      September 26, 2010 at 9:07 pm |
  7. Mona

    Kay: "The MAJORITY of clergy are good and the MAJORITY OF ABUSE HAPPENS BY RELATIVES, not priests. The media need to focus on that if they wish to stop abuse."

    What you forget is that family member molesters act in isolation, and have no organized lobby, whereas the RCC has acted as an organization with written directives to its priests to threaten, silence and otherwise intimidate victims in order to protect the reputation and property of the RCC. Family member molesters don’t have multi-billion dollar bank accounts to pay for lawyers and for lobbyists. Family member abusers don’t publically profess to represent Truth, Goodness and God’s will. Family member abusers don’t claim to have the authority to arbitrate God’s eternal punishment on those who challenge the church.

    There is NO comparison!!

    September 26, 2010 at 7:53 pm |
  8. Muslim

    Celebacy is not from the religion of Abraham.
    How many Prophets, peace be upon them, were Celebate? They were not Celebate, save Jesus who had an assassination attempt made at him, in fact they were polygamous.

    POLYGAMY IS THE NORM AMONG PROPHETS, peace be upon them.

    The ideology of Celebacy was concocted by the priests and monks. Where is the proof that it was taught by Jesus Christ the Messiah, peace be upon him?

    September 26, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
  9. Ken

    Public bias: The public may view se xual abuse by priests very differently from similar crimes by Protestant clergy. The Roman Catholic Church is generally seen as a monolithic organization with a clearly defined rig id hierarchy. Thus a case of abuse becomes a "Roman Catholic scandal" rather than a local parish problem. A similar mo lestation in a Protestant church would probably be viewed as a local problem isolated to a single congregation, because of the decentralized nature of most Protestant churches.

    September 26, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  10. HotAirAce

    @Observant Crow

    It's not bashing if it's true. It is deflection when you try to draw attention to some other group, rather than deal with your tribe's issues. It is very stupid to use the old "what about the jews?" line, especially when you point to a web page with dubious claims, Please fo try to stick to the facts.

    September 26, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
  11. Hi

    Pope, I am disappoint.

    September 26, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
  12. Petel2

    Someone please tell me what the pope is doing to help these victims and their families? Answer that question before supporting this criminal.

    September 26, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  13. Observant Crow

    So it's okay to bash the Catholic Church but it is taboo to bash jews. The jews did 9/11. http://www.911missinglinks.com
    Why do these people always see the speck in others' eyes but miss the beam in their own?

    September 26, 2010 at 11:14 am |
  14. Rosie

    So sad to recognize the suffering of those who should be protected by "the church". I am @ much more peace in my present spirituality than ever as a Catholic & I apologise to all the kids to whom I taught Catechism , to all the young parents who came to Adult Education facilitated by me! I hope all of them find a more wholesome, balanced path to a life in God.
    Good investigating, good reporting.

    September 26, 2010 at 3:05 am |
  15. Smith in Oregon

    I watched the episode in it's entirety and found it deep disappointing. While attempting to operate in a veil of transparency and neutrality, the segment entirely omitted the FACTS which include:

    Cardinal Ratz himself moving key Vatican priests and bishops out of the country and out of the reach of US Courts and Laws.

    Cardinal Ratz moving accused serial pedophile Vatican priests to other parishes in America where scores of new innocent children were molested and their lives were turned inside out and destroyed.

    Cardinal Ratz instructing the legal team's in America to have parishes file for bankruptcy rather than pay US Court ordered monetary settlements to hundreds of children whose lives were turned inside out and destroyed.

    Pope Ratz sending Vatican envoy's to Secretary of State Condie Rice officially requesting she intervene with then President Bush jr. to block and obstruct US Court proceedings seeking to charge Pope Ratz and the Vatican directly. President Bush jr. complied and instructed the US Justice Dept. to block those US court proceedings.

    The facts appear to suggest that Cardinal Ratz as well as his brother in Germany are culpable and conspired to cove rup, protect, conceal and prevent independent criminal courts from monetary settlements and from issuing lengthy prison sentences upon those Vatican priests who were guilty of those heinous crimes.

    September 26, 2010 at 2:45 am |
  16. HotAirAce

    So, any thoughts on the "What The Pope Knew"? I watched it think that if 1/2 of what was presented is true, pope-a-dope would seem to have been in the middle of a few coverups.

    September 26, 2010 at 12:53 am |
  17. illness

    how sick that these men need little boys and girls to orgasm.

    September 25, 2010 at 9:51 pm |
    • daryl

      Catholics prefer little boys but I would imagine, in a jam, they would do a little girl.

      October 8, 2010 at 4:53 pm |
  18. Mom - 1 beautiful daughter

    Our beautiful daughter was abused by a coach when she was 13. We didn't find out until she was 14, and already emotionally distraught. She was in counseling, but could never come to terms with the awful things he did to her, and could never seem to understand that she was not at fault. She was tender hearted, and would stand up for those she saw were being bullied at school, a very sensitive girl. She was an honor student, achieving straight As, had a lot of potential for a successful future. She would have been 17 this summer. She ended her life this summer, stepping in front of a truck. How bad must the pain be to feel that this is an alternative to living? There are many victims of abuse and assault who try, or do end their lives, due to the pain inflicted on them. Abusers should be treated like murderers, with no hope for getting out of prison. This coach is also Catholic (cooincidence? maybe he was also molested), and is still coaching.

    September 25, 2010 at 6:12 pm |
  19. Petel2

    As a victim of rrraaappes and sssoddoommies from ages 8 to 10, once a gang sssooooddoommy by 4 priests – I'm asking Americans to help us expose the truth. Please demand your lawmakers and justice departments to hold this organization accountable. Right now, the RCC has the financial ability to buy those who should be helping us.
    ..
    Many mothers suffer unimaginable pain as they cry every night for their lost children who committed suicide and those mentally ill. And these mothers know the RCC denied their children. Not only does the RCC deny their children, but their lobby efforts to stop laws that would help all victims of abuse.
    ..
    The RCC doesn't care for these mothers, the children victims and only care of their own reputation.
    ..
    Please help us, we need you to demand accountability. We need your voice.

    Thank you

    September 25, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
  20. Mary Goodson

    I truly with the catholic church could be shut down and put out of business.

    September 25, 2010 at 5:34 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.