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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. Don in Kansas

    Regarding all who are complaining about the media attention
    Someone needs to keep this before the public until all those responsibe, including Herr Ratzinger, are called to public and legal accounting for what they did and what they failed to do to protect the children

    September 24, 2010 at 11:44 am |
    • Doubtfull

      Sieg Heil! Herr Ratzinger.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  2. opiateofthemasses

    Ah, "religion" The opiate of the masses, as it is said. You see, if he were a true spiritual being, this sort of thing would not happen. Religon. Gotta love it.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:41 am |
    • Father Fred the Ped

      Its fun to love religion when religion loves you back!

      September 24, 2010 at 11:46 am |
  3. William

    oops...got cut off...lets NOT jump to conclusions at ALL priests and ALL Catholics are doing wrong against others. Most are faithful member trying to witness the Gospel of Jesus preaching and living, reaching out, forgiveness and love of each othert and God.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  4. ProudNYCGal

    So sad. Equally as sad when the actions of the few overshadow the actions of the many. Blame the priests just like you should blame the terrorists. I'm just sayin'...

    September 24, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  5. Benjamin

    CNN is becoming so militant in its anti-Catholicism! It posts articles blaming Ratzinger, when the facts clearly show Ratzinger had nothing to do with the crimes. CNN = Communist National Network.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:39 am |
    • Peacemaker

      Whoa.........Benjamin! Ratzinger........ REFUSED to defrock a priest who abused children! Because Ratzinger REFUSED to REMOVE this "priest" from ministry......... RATZINGER IS JUST AS GUILTY! Get it? IF YOU witness crime or KNOW that a crime was committed and DO NOT report the crime to the police.......... YOU ARE GUILTY TOO! That's why SO many are angry! (excuse the yelling, folks)

      September 24, 2010 at 11:49 am |
    • Peter

      Hey, Peacemaker, the priest was already in jail when Ratzinger found out about it. Try using a little reading comprehension next time.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:56 am |
    • Vorpul

      Peter loves playing the condescending prlck. He loves the money, too. What do you say, Peter? Did it feel good to ra-pe those children?

      lotsa luck with that comprehension thingy. Boinnnngggg!

      September 24, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Really – CNN anti-religion? As an atheist, I often think that CNN is way too friendly to religion. Take Rick Sanchez for example – he drives me crazy with his frequent mentioning of his beliefs! And many of their consultants/guests openly profess their beleifs. If forced, I'd say CNN is neutral on religion – way more neutral than Fox...

      September 24, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
  6. HandBanana

    eFF the pope

    September 24, 2010 at 11:39 am |
  7. Jules

    Oh Norm,

    How many victims do there have to be for you to believe? Hundreds, thousands?? Satan is in the catholc church and these preists know its wrong but do it anyway. It can take many years for victims to come forward.
    Norm, watch your children carefully in the church, dont leave them alone with any priest.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:36 am |
  8. William

    There is alot of rage in the priesthood against ANYONE who does wrong to ANY of God's children. They should be tried and released from the priesthood, and in some cases jailed, never to act as a memeber of the clergy again. I know however there are hundreds and thousands of priests working 15-16 hour days 6/7 days a week...feeding the poor, teaching the faith, celebrating mass, reconciliation, visiting the sick, presiding at Funerals , Weddings and Baptisms.....and have great friends in families in the parishes and schools they serve....so let's NOT jump to conclusions that ALL priests and all Catholics

    September 24, 2010 at 11:36 am |
    • Norm

      Save your breath William.
      This is a lynch mob.
      They don't want to hear reason. They've already lit the torches and sharpened the pitchforks and are headed for the castle.
      The uneducated, unruly mob is drunk with self righteous power and on the move. Most of them lead disgusting lives and any chance to degrade the clergy or anything religion is a free banquet for them. Don't try to take away their fantasy of a preist molesting a child. They've already invested too much emotional foreplay into it.

      September 24, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
    • 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 a religion 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 4:18 pm |
  9. ForFarkSakes

    So the head of the Catholic Church is complicit in child molestation. Is anybody really surprised by this? This evil organization hides behind the cloak of religion to perpetrate the most evil crimes on earth. The so-called 'faithful' continue to support it. That nobody is calling for criminal charges to be brought against the pope speaks of the fear people have of standing up against this heinous crime syndicate masquerading as a church.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:36 am |
    • Norm

      Have YOU called for charges against the Pope?
      No? Then that makes you an accomplice in this as well?
      Maybe it's because you know this is all a lie and there was never any proof of molestations.
      People like you won't believe when another man tells you there is a God, but you are very quick to believe when another man tells you he was molested by a preist as a child and has no evidence to support his claim.
      Therefore your opinion is invalid. You believe what you like. You pick and chose.
      So I choose to believe in God and that the Pope is innocent. Your belief has no more validity than mine now does it.

      September 24, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
  10. getalife.com

    I can't even imagine what these people went through. I hope the pope and his cronies suffer much anguish in their last days. smh.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  11. Lifer

    "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"

    Any Pope who has this in his records should not be Pope.....
    This adds injury to the problems of the church

    September 24, 2010 at 11:34 am |
  12. The Jackdaw

    If the Pope represents God on Earth, and what the Pope rules is upheld by Heaven, does that mean, therefore, that child molesting is okay in the eyes of God?

    September 24, 2010 at 11:34 am |
    • Father Fred the Ped

      Yes

      September 24, 2010 at 11:39 am |
    • Doubtfull

      Amen . . . . F_uck.

      September 24, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  13. PJ

    Ratzinger knows and knew a lot more than he is claiming. He continues to support the Legion of Christ Order of Priests founded by the most notorious pedophile in Rome recently deceased....Father Marciel. However, two of Marciel's "sons" are suing the Vatican for Millions for the many years of sodomy they suffered as children by their father (Marciel) protected by JP2 and Ratzinger. Ratzinger needs to be tried by the World Court and the Vatican needs huge law suits to be filed worldwide.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:33 am |
  14. Jules,

    I will not take issue with your anger or decision to move on, but I do take issue with your suggestion that they are ALL pedophiles. I suspect if you could lift the "veil of secrecy" on all people, you would be shocked at who is a pedophile, ad that the crime crosses all boundaries, religions, cultures, and countries. Grass may be green, but everything green is not grass.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:32 am |
  15. Bren

    Do not be deceived by false teachers. I am Catholic but have questioned things I've seen. The Bible states one thing, Catholicism teaches their twist on it. My husband and I attend Mass but we are not part of the elitist club that Catholics have portrayed themselves to be. We try to live by what the Bible says and have given up on the faith that I was taught was all that and more.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:31 am |
  16. David H

    I am not convinced that a victim who has apparently recovered and compensated is served by knowing even more information about the crime. Reliving a nightmare is not always considered effective treatment.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:30 am |
    • Norm

      It's all a lie David.
      All for money.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:34 am |
    • Critter

      @David H

      Strangely enough, I think Norm is telling us about himself.

      September 24, 2010 at 7:39 pm |
  17. Brett Favre's fan (a.k.a. ybs)

    The Vatican feeds on 1.5B sheep! Thousands abused doesn't make a dent. The anger will subside & the subjugation of others perpetuates! Just watch!

    September 24, 2010 at 11:28 am |
    • Trottodemal

      @Brett Favre's fan

      I think you may have something there.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:33 am |
  18. Solution

    Here is the solution cut the pope's WEENIE OFF. All the priests as well

    September 24, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  19. Jules

    Dear Cassarit,

    As far as I am concerned, not any catholic can say a thing which would convince me that priests are not pedophiles. I think the world is sick of all this abuse. You are right Catholics should be the ones raising thier voices and saying enough is enough. I am denouncing my faith as a catholic and moving my money and my family out of the church. Why should we be paying millions to defend these sick men who pretend to be christians. We should be keeping our children out of the church and stop the brainwashing of our children.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:22 am |
    • Guest

      Catholics are Catholic because of the faith not because of priests. Taking our money and family and denouncing the faith makes no sense at all. You obviously are a rabid anti-Catholic which make your opinions worthless.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  20. Edith Stein

    I'd like to help CNN's readers understand a crucial distinction. Laicization (also called "defrocking") is the permanent removal of priestly responsibilities from someone who has been ordained to the Catholic priesthood. It should not be equated with "firing" the priest. Priests can be fired - that is, removed from ministry and forbidden to present themselves as a priest - without being laicized, and likewise, priests can request laicization for reasons that have nothing to do with misconduct (for instance, to marry). In Alvin Campbell's case, he had already effectively been "fired"; laicization was merely an ecclesiastical step that, in fact, gave him more freedom that he had before he was laicized (e.g. freedom to marry).

    September 24, 2010 at 11:22 am |
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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.