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. HotAirAce

    To all you CNN/Ted Turner bashers – are your referring to the same Ted Turner who recently wondered if god was sending a message via the BP oil spill:


    If so, I liked the other Ted Turner much better!

    September 25, 2010 at 2:53 am |
  2. HotAirAce

    I came across this while looking for article about how current pope forced a priest out:


    September 25, 2010 at 2:12 am |
    • Ken

      HotAirAce– I had not heard of this incident before. It really makes you wonder about about this. Thanks for posting it.

      September 25, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  3. CdnJim

    Anyway you slice it the Catholic Church's actions can be described as nothing less than organized crime. This includes the current "Godfather" Don Benedict.

    September 25, 2010 at 1:16 am |
  4. CdnJim

    ANyway you slice it the Catholic church was involved in organized crime, including his "Holiness" Don Benedict. Now that's some godfather.

    September 25, 2010 at 1:14 am |
  5. Brian


    Read this for more on CNN's anti-Catholic jihad.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:53 pm |
  6. Catie

    Dear CNN,
    What percentage of your employees are believers? I am curious. It may explain a few things

    September 24, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
  7. 11madness

    This is a non story.

    September 24, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
  8. 11madness

    This story is a tempest in a teapot. Old news that is somewhat skewed because it doesnt take into the accont the context of when it happened. Things are very clear in hindsight, im sure not so clear in real time.

    This would be a big time story if the priest went on to molest more boys after the Pope failed to act. But the story does not indicate that that happened.

    September 24, 2010 at 9:49 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Please explain the context that would allow the abuse of child?

      September 24, 2010 at 10:50 pm |
    • Brian

      The fatcs don't matter to these bigots.

      Didn't Ted Turner call Christianity a religion for losers?

      September 24, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
  9. What color is your lense?

    WOW. From reading some of the posts it is clear that most people are either not Catholics or ignorant Catholics. Most people here have no clue how Church law and government law work. The victim is suing because the Pope didn't remove the priest from the priesthood. The Pope cannot remove any priest from the priesthood. Once you're a priest that's it, you're a priest forever. It's just like being baptized. Once you're baptized you can never be unbaptized. The Pope can only advise the respective bishop to stop the priest from ministering in public. Since he was not ministering in public anymore then there is nothing more the Pope can do. Anyone who is angered by this and continues to push this is clearly under Satan's influence.

    September 24, 2010 at 9:21 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Seems that a previous pope-a-dope did a lot more about a pedophile priest/bishop in Mexico – the article I read indicated he preety much forced the evil-doer to retire. I'm sure you can do some homework about this. I'd do if for you except that I'm hoping will you will also come across other opinions that show you that you are merely hiding behind internal church rules in an effort to deflect respsonsibility for your flawed (yet somehow still infallible) pope-a-dope.

      September 24, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
    • What color is your lense?

      Actually I know of a number of bishops who refused to retire when Pope John Paul II asked them to. This isn't something that's made public in order to avoid looking as if some bishops are disobedient. In fact I know of an instance where a majority of Canadian bishops signed a letter in Winnipeg and published it in a newspaper, the letter stated that they rejected one of the Pope's encyclicals. The bishops absolutely have the authority to remove a priest from public ministry. However not even the Pope can remove a priest from the priesthood as I stated earlier.

      September 24, 2010 at 9:50 pm |
    • What color is your lense?


      By the way HotAirAce, it looks like you too are strongly under Satan's influence, just like Judas and the high priests were. They shouted crucify Him! You too want the body of Christ to be crucified. It will be, and you will answer for it. The people at CNN however will carry a huge part of the blame. You think God is tough, just wait until Satan is allowed to get his hands on you.

      September 24, 2010 at 9:57 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Sorry to disappoint, but THERE ARE NO GODS – NOT EVEN JUST 1 – AND NO SATAN EITHER! I don't want to crucify or harm or even threaten anyone. I just want you believers to be quiet and quit trying to impose your insanity on anyone. Yes, I often say "there are no gods..." but I do try to limit this to a reaction to claims that there is a god or gods. When beleivers stop telling me their beleives and quit the rediculous habit of quoting scripture at me, then in turn I will stop telling you what I think about religion. But again, I am not in league with the devil, or any other imaginary being.

      September 24, 2010 at 10:47 pm |
    • Brian


      September 24, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Looks like I was wrong about the case in Mexico. It was the previous pope-a-dope that did not do anything, and the current one that forced his retirement. That being said Ratz didn't do much for the victims and certainly didn't turn the ab-user over to the police, so I think his actions still fall under "protect the church at all costs."

      Seee http://www.thetablet.co.uk/article/57 for more details, from a catholic source!

      September 25, 2010 at 2:38 am |
  10. Judy Jones

    Priests are still abusing kids, and bishops are still covering up these crimes.


    September 24, 2010 at 9:21 pm |
  11. CNNshallFall

    Send all anti-catholics to Antarctica. Hatred has no place in society, and they can freeze for all i care

    September 24, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
  12. Judy Jones

    Priests are still abusing kids, Fr Zalenski was not indicted by the county grand jury, because 2nd victim was not even subpoenaed to testify.


    September 24, 2010 at 9:14 pm |
  13. Judy Jones

    Priests are still abusing kids... Fr Poandl indicted in January 2010...trial got dismissed on technicality in August 2010..


    September 24, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
  14. Brian

    Why does anyone put any credence in anything that CNN says?

    Their left wing bias and hatred of the Catholic church is so palpable that it is no surprise that they are now last in the ratings.

    September 24, 2010 at 9:05 pm |
  15. CNNshallFall

    "CNN told him about a letter signed by the pontiff" CNN has taken sides.

    September 24, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      By your (clearly faulty) logic, if CNN did not show the victim the letter they would not be taking sides. Noone has disputed the existence of the letter, its contents or that it's signed by pope-a-dope, so I think we can assume it's factual. Is showing a fact to anyone a sign of bias, or is not showing it (hiding it?) a sign of dishonesty (lying?)?

      You're just yet another apologist trying to deflect blame from the rcc and pope-a-dope to anyone else. Your good (for nothing) priests and bishops, with assistance from pope-a-dope, caused this problem – deal with it!!

      September 24, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
  16. Joseph

    oh lord, may Pope Benedict XVI suffer the pain of 1000 beheadings and mutilations when he dies and goes to hell. What a joke the Vatican is. Controlled by money, political lust, and lies (and strongly affiliated with Italian organized crime).

    September 24, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
  17. ben

    “I think common sense should supersede Canon law” if common sense were a factor it wouldn't qualify as religion.

    September 24, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  18. gary

    If you work hard to become a priest they get blssed with 72 little boy virgins. Of course, the Pope gets that and the gold too!!! What a place for a villian to hide, right under your nose, huh? Just like the presidents...

    September 24, 2010 at 8:00 pm |
  19. Happy Ex Catholic

    FINALLY! Go leave a comment! This PRIEST wants the POPE to step down! Yea!


    September 24, 2010 at 7:50 pm |
  20. Happy Ex Catholic


    That says alot for you as a parishioner, huh? The Infallible Pope leading the Blind and Brainwashed Sheep....

    September 24, 2010 at 7:26 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.