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. Christ

    If caught molesting, all involved should be shot and hanged.

    September 25, 2010 at 10:35 am |
  2. Truthspeak

    You can tell the real men of God by their "fruits"? Hey Pope, wrong fruit! 🙁 The pope and his "merry" men should be arrested and deballed not defrocked. But what do we expect from the people who killed Jesus and then stole and perverted his religion. No soup for you Nazi pope.

    September 25, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  3. mella

    I pray the children (now adults) that were molested can find peace and I hope the pope and the other pedophile priests burn in Hell.

    September 25, 2010 at 10:11 am |
  4. johncc

    The Pope, the Imam and the ministers who are going to tell you how to vote tomorrow can do no wrong. They are instructed by a higher power. Right?

    September 25, 2010 at 9:50 am |
  5. Joe

    if we could just get rid of all these cult leaders and keep kids from being se3ualy abused and brainwashed to believe in fictional characters..then we can start to put a stop to all this.

    September 25, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  6. Mike

    It is stories like this that weakens people to follow the Catholic faith and become non-practicing Catholics, although many may already be non-practicing Catholics. This definitely doesn't help the cause to spread Catholicism. Stories like this have made me reconsider sending my daughter to be an alter girl.

    September 25, 2010 at 9:42 am |
  7. Joe

    As usual the brainwashed will continue to make excuses for the Pope and the Church. Fools.

    September 25, 2010 at 9:37 am |
  8. BillyBob117

    Why do they wait 25-50 years to tell their story? Why is islam the only religion supported by the left, the state run media and the socialist regime?

    September 25, 2010 at 9:36 am |
  9. Eric

    Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger*

    September 25, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  10. Ghunt

    Of course everyone is on the victim's side. I am to. But we judge this by his knowledge. There is due process and even in this country did OJ Simpson go to jail. We all know he did it but he is free because the laws of this nation set him free. Should it be that way? Well those laws are meant to protect those who are falsely accused. Yes this guy was guilty but not every priest someone complains about is and so there must be due process and it must be applied equal. So we can say "ay common sense" all we want but the fact is Ratzinger was going by Church law at the time. The Article fails to point out that Ratzinger had a large part in changing the law as well. Hmmmm.

    September 25, 2010 at 9:35 am |
  11. anthony

    Sam houston, another brainwashed sheep. I will never understand how people can be so stupid/desperate. I hope I live to see the current religions go the way of the greek gods and other ridiculous things people stopped believing.

    September 25, 2010 at 9:30 am |
  12. mike

    Religion is Nothing but a myth!! I was brought up Catholic, alter boy the whole 9 yards! It dosent take much research to come to the conclusion its all bull!! Study your history people! The Catholic church made Hitler look like a boy scout in
    inhumane ways to kill ten's of thousands of people for several centuries!! Read about the corruption, abuse of power.
    That's what religion was and is about. Power to control you every thought, not to mention money... God knows the church always needs money!! All organized religions are nothing but myths... read, the Truth is Out There!!

    September 25, 2010 at 9:28 am |
  13. Satan...

    "Oh boo hoo...the naughty old preist touched my pee pee...."

    Consider it blessed..

    September 25, 2010 at 9:25 am |
  14. mike

    There are more anti and former Catholics here than I expected.Anyone catching on to the trend this 'church"has created?

    September 25, 2010 at 9:22 am |
  15. atheist rules

    i feel sorry for u people who still dreams lol as u can see no one follows the rules open ur eyes n wake up losers

    September 25, 2010 at 9:20 am |
  16. Sam Houston


    September 25, 2010 at 9:10 am |
  17. Norm

    Way to go Matt.
    CNN has made you their latest poster boy for preist molestation.
    Hope you got a good deal from them. $$$$$$$$$$$$$
    BTW...are you able to actually "prove" it happened or is this all here say again......

    September 25, 2010 at 9:09 am |
    • Moses

      The Christians are as brainwashed and crazy as the Taliban

      September 25, 2010 at 9:56 am |
  18. Quilmes

    It is sad the religions that are supposed to guide us in the path of love is monstorous. The church has more skeletons than any other oranization. In the name of spreading the word of god and civilizing the world, the missionaries were the scouts for the colonists who have murdered thousands of innocent people every continent. Wiping out civilization & cultures. Now we have these animalistic priests carrying the disgusting act.

    September 25, 2010 at 9:08 am |
  19. CM

    Not every priest is a monster. In this very article, there are reports that the bishop in charge of this disgusting piece of filth tried to protect the children in his diocese. I know that there are leaders in that organization that are good people....

    That being said, the Roman Catholic Church is utterly indefensible on this and deserves to be criminally prosecuted. Is there such a thing as non-war crimes against humanity? Because that's what this was.

    They can spout all of the statistics they want about how the percentage of abusive priests is consistent with the rest of society. About the fact that it's "only" a couple of thousand priests out of a much larger pool. Guess what? I couldn't care less. The issue here is that those few thousand priests were PROTECTED.

    Please, those of you still defending the Church. Think about what that means. What if the Church moved a priest to your parish knowing full well that he was a child-molester. What if it were YOUR son or daughter abused and left to pick up the pieces?

    There is no apology good enough to repair the damage that Ratzinger has done. And when he opens his mouth and lies come out about not knowing about it, I can't understand how ANYONE can possibly believe that he is infallible.

    The man belongs in jail, charged with allowing thousands of boys and girls to endure abuses at the hands of priests he was unwilling to take care of because of fear of bad publicity. This is a CRIME people! Just like it would be if any other organization perpetrated these atrocities.

    September 25, 2010 at 9:03 am |
  20. parka

    Refusing to read CNN is like being an ostrich with your head in the sand. You can't shove this under the rug anymore. It's all good, we all reap what we sow, the Catholics and the Vatican and the Poop, I mean Pope are just getting what they have coming to them. You can't fool God!! If you do good things, good things come to you. If you do bad things, bad things come to you, there's no way around it!! The Vatican obviously has a tsunami of feces coming at them. The Vatican has taught that they are the intermediary between God and humans and that you need them to communicate with God. Wrong. This religion is the meanest saddest sham of altruism. We are going to be horrified when all the skeletons come out of the closet, and they know it.

    September 25, 2010 at 8:55 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.