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. JT

    Those of you who defend your pedophile infested church and minimize the damage are probably good people outside your cult. You keep trying to make it ancient history and all other tricks to make it okay to continue your defense of this most corrupt of organizations. I hope you still aren't blindly throwing your children into this machine.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  2. m.24.m

    Are all christians, and catholics child molesters....And all Muslim's terrorist?

    September 24, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  3. TJ

    Yet another way that adults brainwash impressionable children with rediculous mythology and fables to victimize them. You want to fix the world? OUTLAW ORGANIZED RELIGION. Imagine all the people.............................

    September 24, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
  4. Simon

    this should be an eye opener to catholic faithful that the leaders of the church themselves does not conform with the bible. catholisism is a false religion.

    September 24, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  5. Robert C

    Of course CNN releases this pseudo report in the midst of the convention for religious news reporters in Denver. Coincidence? More liked a timed attack. I think not. Continued bigotry from ted turner.

    September 24, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  6. Robert C

    Brilliant Kay. You summed it up eloquently.

    September 24, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
  7. Robert C

    Its drooling deluded idiots like yourself who blindly attcak what you don't agree with and certainly don't understand.

    September 24, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  8. The Devil

    The innocent are hurt. The laws change. The guilty are punished. The innocent are hurt. The laws change. The guilty are punished. The innocent are hurt.....

    September 24, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
  9. dcon

    A man of true moral character never cowers behind the technicalities of the law. The Christian Gospels make that abundantly clear. Shame on Ratzinger! And his statement last week that he was "shocked" by the abuse clearly reveals him as utterly naive or as a bold-faced liar.

    September 24, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
  10. Carrie

    I get so sick of these people hiding behind God! I believe in God just not preist! This is horrible! I hope Nancy Grace interviews this guy. He is valued & loved!

    September 24, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  11. JT

    I urge everyone to browse to http://to.pbs.org/godhand. Please watch this video of the personal story of this film maker's family and of the horrible abuse he and his brother received at the hands of priests. It's such a tragic story.

    His brother commits suicide. His parents find that both their sons were brutally abused but they still stay members of their church. It's as if the church has made them zombies. The arrogance and indifference of the church is disgusting. It's such a shocking story.

    September 24, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
  12. Reality

    For new members:

    Why did today's pope, prelates, preachers and rabbis, so focused on society's se-xual sins, lose sight of clerical se–xual sins?

    Obviously ordination in any religion is not assurance of good behavior !!!!!

    Neither is coronation!!! e.g. Henry VIII, King David.

    Neither is marriage as 50% of those men convicted of pe-dophilia are married.

    Neither is being elected president of the USA!! e.g. Billy "I did not have s-ex with that girl" Clinton, John "Marilyn Monroe" Kennedy"

    Neither is possessing super athletic skill!!! e.g. Tiger "I am so sorry for getting caught" Woods

    Neither is being an atheist or pagan since pe-dophilia is present in all walks of life

    If someone is guilty of a crime in this litany of "neithers" they should or should have been penalized as the law dictates to include jail terms for pe-dophiliacs (priests, rabbis, evangelicals, boy scout leaders, married men/women), divorce for ad-ultery (Clinton, Kennedy, Woods), jail terms for obstruction of justice (Clinton, Cardinal Law, B16) and the death penalty or life in prison for murder ("Kings David and Henry VIII).

    September 24, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  13. John

    The teachings of the Buddha can offer many people a new way of looking at the individuals who cloak themselves in biblical scripture while they manipulate those who believe and trust their spiritual teachers. Buddha taught his students 1."Do not accept any of my words on faith, believing them just because I said them.2."Be like an analyst buying gold, who cuts, burns, and critically examines his product for authenticity." 3."Only accept what passes the test by proving useful and beneficial in your life." The Four Reliance's" Rely on the teachings, not the person; Rely on the meaning, not the words; Rely on the definitive meaning, not on the provisional; Rely on your wisdom mind, not your ordinary mind." These are words of the Buddha.

    September 24, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  14. Robert C

    No wonder CNN is in deep trouble with its news presentations and veracity. It figures it can revive ratings and save executive positions by further attacking this Pope? Benedict has done more than anyone else to effect change to Canon law. This propaganda is OLD news and unworthy of any reputable network.. The maligners are not catholic. Have no business even offering comment. Ted turner should worry more about his credibility having married a certified traitor and subborning the election of socialists and losers.

    September 24, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  15. WiseMan

    Forgive and Forget. Let's the healing started now. "Forgive us as those who tresspass againts us". "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"

    September 24, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
    • Vorpul

      So let's DO UNTO THEM and quit making that noise about forgiveness. You seek to allow them to commit even more crimes forever and ever.
      Forgive them yourself, but quit hindering the investigations, quit opposing those who seek to stop evil.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
  16. digwawan

    why don't we just get rid of all the priest/nun and the old pope ?? to save children ...
    they are nothing but abusing church goer's hard earn money and the bad ones also will have some extra fun like molesting children...
    they are useless junk, get rid of them, ask them to get a real job like become a farmer or be a assembly line worker,
    instead of pretending as devine person and doing satanic thingie.

    September 24, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  17. biorsel

    Put this Pop guy on trial...

    September 24, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  18. Forgive

    Forgive and Forget. Let bygones be bygones. Everyone who follows Christ must carry His cross. The priest is already arrested for his crime. Now, it's time for healing people.

    September 24, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
    • Vorpul

      I say execute every child molester in the world. If God wants to forgive them after that, he is welcome to do whatever.

      The criminals have not all been caught and arrested and prosecuted in this case. There is still the Pope and everyone in between, and any incidental accessories to the crime.

      You cannot hide criminals behind blind forgiveness. Justice must be done. Hiding child molesters behind religion is so f0cking EVIL that there is nothing you can say to stop me from calling for justice.
      The Pope and the Church must pay for their crimes against humanity. The full account must be paid. Jesus might be coming and sweeping everything under the rug is not going to fool HIM. HeII, it doesn't even fool ME or most other people.
      Forgive if you like, but stay the heII out of the way of justice. To impede justice against the evil ones is evil also.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  19. Dave

    I'm a Christian and I tell you what I think. I think that anyone who helped conceal these priest's crimes, no matter whether they're in the church or out of the church should have gotten a harsher sentence than the priest who molested these children. Some cases I've read about..where the priest was moved around in an effort to give a cover up, those who moved him should have gotten no less than life in prison.

    While I'm at it, I would HOPE that anyone who's not a Christian, who's read this doesn't think that this priest showed being a Christian in any shape or form of the word. He made a mockery of God and the church and Christians by his actions. It's obvious he had no fear of God whatsoever.

    September 24, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  20. missmissy

    wow! the evil one will have his run.....then! , oh baby then! eternity and the everlasting justice awaits....

    September 24, 2010 at 2:26 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.