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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. anonymous

    Welcome to christianity with gays, lesbians and child abusers. GREAT!!

    September 24, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
    • Reality

      And, the biggest offender of all are the radical Christians... they are the worse abusers of race, color and creed...and our freedom.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
  2. Cover-up

    Fandaeagles.com Child abuse is not the exclusive domain of the Catholic Church. See the horror in which countless missionary kids grew up overseas, while their parents worked for New Tribes Mission. Click on "Forums" to read their stories firsthand.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
    • FederalistJohn

      yes please click the above link for atheist propaganda. This person clearly strayed from christ because of his own depression and self pity.

      You liberals have no idea what is going on do you? The pope could not have reversed this decision as it is CANON LAW that you cannot defrock a priest without his permission. You think the pope promotes pedofiles?? Just as Don't ask don't tell is a law that restricts gays from the military. Obama does not like the law, but he cannot strike it down because he THINKS it is wrong. The church IS a government and it too has laws which are difficult to change. As mentioned in the story, canon laws have changed. The church is the largest private organization in the world (to the point it has its own country), of course there will be quacks trying to take advantage of its power. Don't blame this on the church blame it on the pedofiles (who are not actual priests but using the guise of the priest to take advantage of children). The brothers and sisters who make the church part of their life are GOOD people. They do not want this. Also, for all the liberals and anti-catholics out there, you should read the story of Dr. Faustus, it applys to you too.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
  3. taylorcm

    can't victimize the willing. kids knew better.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
    • Cover-up

      I assume you have come merely to incite heated responses.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
  4. endora

    Daniel Ryan is a hero.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
  5. Johnny

    Protect your children from what is coming. Ooooh, yee, we all want to drink from devine waters, yet the road to heaven is one of straight and narrow. Evil lurks on the horizon, yet we continue to fall to our ugly ways of sin. The only chance to save yourself is to turn to Jesus. Thats all I want to say.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
  6. Sarah

    FOR nherent:

    It is disgraceful and we CAN and WILL slam the catholic church for what they are doing to our children. I am not worried about God at all. I think the Lord would want us to protect our children. The Catholic church has got it all wrong and I for one hope that they go down in flames for all this, including the Pope. We already know those involved will be going to hell. Lets hope the Pope does not come to the USA, he will huge angry mobs around him.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  7. Jimboe

    Mark my words, within days you'll hear them spouting nonsense about gays and lesbians from the pulpit of the Holy See. Smoke and Mirrors.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  8. Josh

    Does it really surprise anyone that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who today is Pope Benedict XVI, would choose to protect a convicted pedophile Catholic Priest, over protecting our innocent children? Is this really the right calling from God?

    September 24, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  9. elidude

    this will continue to be a story until there are NO MORE SECRETS from the poop down!

    September 24, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
  10. FederalistJohn

    You liberals have no idea what is going on do you? The pope could not have reversed this decision as it is CANON LAW that you cannot defrock a priest without his permission. You think the pope promotes pedofiles?? Just as Don't ask don't tell is a law that restricts gays from the military. Obama does not like the law, but he cannot strike it down because he THINKS it is wrong. The church IS a government and it too has laws which are difficult to change. As mentioned in the story, canon laws have changed. The church is the largest private organization in the world (to the point it has its own country), of course there will be quacks trying to take advantage of its power. Don't blame this on the church blame it on the pedofiles (who are not actual priests but using the guise of the priest to take advantage of children). The brothers and sisters who make the church part of their life are GOOD people. They do not want this. Also, for all the liberals and anti-catholics out there, you should read the story of Dr. Faustus, it applys to you too.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
    • Cover-up

      Did the Catholic Church cover-up the abuse?

      September 24, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
    • FederalistJohn

      no smart one, cause CNN has covered it plenty

      September 24, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
    • Bill in Florida

      I love this. So, everyone who thinks the current Pope should have taken action regardless of canon law is liberal. Well sir, I am glad to be called liberal. I am liberal to those who do right. As for those who do wrong or cover up their sins, especially when it involves children, I have no sympathy. Stop blaming liberals for the downfall of your corrupt dogma. If it hadn't been bankrupt of any true value, your priests wouldn't have committed these sins and your pope wouldn't have had anything to cover up. Liberals did not cause this problem. The priests, the pope and ultimately the church caused it. It's time for accountability.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  11. Sarah

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

    This is an interesting quote from the article. You would think that common sense would have observed modern society and speculated about what is missing.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
    • FederalistJohn

      indeed

      September 24, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
  12. May

    It is a real shame what Hugh Heffner, and the hippy generation of free love did to our country. So many people felt intimidated speaking up because 'everybody' was doing it. It was allowed by society in so many instances. Police departments turned the other way. The good were ridiculed for being 'fridgid', and a 'prude'. How could we go so
    wrong as a society? Yet, we did. With the advent of 'free love', LSD and pot. Shame on our nation !

    September 24, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
    • Cover-up

      Did that influence the priests?

      September 24, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
  13. egor687

    To Faithfuly Independant........SOUNDS LIKE YOUR A GIRLSCOUT OR ONE OF THE OTHERS.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
  14. tcaros

    Another horror story. Priests abusing children.
    The Pope Ratzinger (aka the dirty Nazi rat) seems to brush it off. And by the way GW Bush really likes this pope. They have alot in common... same master. I guess these old men like smelling boys butts. What a bunch of reprobates.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
  15. Feder

    Anyone that ever harms a child or molests them in anyway should be mutilated and killed. Of course Im not talking about a parent slapping their child on rare occasion. I mean abuse or moslestation. Dead tortured. We need an absolute deterent to this aborrhent monstrous behavior. The Catholic Church is a pathetic, elitist, killing machine. They tried to take over the world and keep the abuse of innocent children a secret?? Every Catholic must look at themselves and really ask themselves if they want to be assocatied with pedohpiles and rapists. For every 1 abuse story for a rabbi there are 1,000 for priests. Why are the catholics so fen sick. How can anyone harm an innocent child or touch their privates. I would gladly..gladly kill each and every person who ever touched a little boy or girl against their will. Death is the only solution for these animals. I have told my wife that if we ever get enough money Im going to retire early give her and my kids a huge kiss and go around the world killing pedophiles and nazi's. Could there ever be time or a life better spent?

    September 24, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  16. NOLA Lady

    You cannot blame the Pope for Canon law... he did was he could. Thank goodness things have changed. The Catholic church is failing. Iin our parish the kids are going elsewhere because their souls are starving. I just don't see the church being around in another 100 years at this rate unless something changes.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
    • FederalistJohn

      I agree.

      You liberals have no idea what is going on do you? The pope could not have reversed this decision as it is CANON LAW that you cannot defrock a priest without his permission. You think the pope promotes pedofiles?? Just as Don't ask don't tell is a law that restricts gays from the military. Obama does not like the law, but he cannot strike it down because he THINKS it is wrong. The church IS a government and it too has laws which are difficult to change. As mentioned in the story, canon laws have changed. The church is the largest private organization in the world (to the point it has its own country), of course there will be quacks trying to take advantage of its power. Don't blame this on the church blame it on the pedofiles (who are not actual priests but using the guise of the priest to take advantage of children). The brothers and sisters who make the church part of their life are GOOD people. They do not want this. Also, for all the liberals and anti-catholics out there, you should read the story of Dr. Faustus, it applys to you too.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
    • Scott

      Let's hope it doesn't take 100 years.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
    • Vorpul

      @FederalistJohn

      The changes to Canon Law you speak about are just window dressing. They do not change much of anything, really.
      And God did not make those laws, so the Pope does not have to follow them if he doesn't want to.
      Truly, the RCC is nothing but a pile of shlt created by the moral descendants of the Pharisees. Rules and regulations mean nothing to God, I would guess, but the Pope has no defense in either case.
      What you are doing is evil. For that I would see you dead, but you are protected this time, as am I.
      What a friend we have in Jesus, who will destroy your evil Church completely.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
  17. Samira

    I too was molested for years, I was 10 years old and those that molested me are free.. One of them was a grown men, he was over 40 believe, I never told me anyone :(. I am crying as I write this. It brings back horrible memories, my own mother doesn't know. I was 8 years old when it all started and it didn't stop until I was 11. At the time I knew it wasn't right but I had no one to help me, I didn't live with my mother at the time and where I come from (Somalia) people will not believe you if you told them you got molested, many would believe the older person rather the child so I kept quiet :(. It still haunts me, I am happily married with a a newborn baby, I ended up marrying an American man because after those horrible things that happened to me I dind't trust Somali men, until today if a girl is molested the community always blames the girl and says she wanted it, and even those that believe her will not seek help from the authorities, the men always walk free because they don't like to involve the cops or the law. I am sick and tired of hiding my wounds. I kinda blamed myself because I didn't tell them to stop. I thought it was OK but inside me I knew it was wrong. I was afraid because I had no family around me when it happened. I am gonna stop here before I run out of tears...

    September 24, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
    • Disgusted

      Samira,
      I am so sorry for the trauma you had to endure. I am glad that you found a good man and that you now have a family to love and support you. Thank you for sharing your story and for speaking up for those who often do not have a voice.
      Bless you.

      September 25, 2010 at 8:41 am |
  18. Rockhead

    I am still waiting for the stories to come out about the "celibate" priests who fathered children with the nuns that worked under them. The basements of Catholic churches have been filled with aborted fetuses since the middle ages.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  19. Scott

    The bottom line here is that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, knew about and still protects known child molesters. He is the one who should now stand trial.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  20. Bill in Florida

    I will say it again. The current Pope is corrupt. None of his edicts, proclamations, announcements or commands are valid. Replace him.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:19 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.