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. Matthew McCormick



    Obviously I said something someone disageed with.I just hope that one of these news orginizations will interview me live. There is so much to say about this.

    For those of you who think I am attacking the catholic congragation you have missed the message. The monster that mo-lested me was moved around this area more than 5 times. Could you ever let a teacher who mo-lested your child be moved to another school where they would have access to even more children? Well that's excatcly what happened here.

    What you fail to see is that the ONLY reason he was moved was because of his superiors, upto and including the now Pope. To claim he is innocent is the talk of a blind fool.

    Ask yourself how much money would you accept in return for giving your child to a known pe-dofile?

    I dare you to answer this!

    What I and 12 of my friends suffered could have been stopped. In fact the victims in Assumption and Rodchester could have been spared.

    Another fact that was never released in my caswe was that when I settled my case under my name only, I did it for 29 other victims. By the time the lawyers took their 40% and the six digit costs were paid there was not very much money to spread around to that many people. The small amopunt that I do have left in an annuity that my Ex-wife has been going after for 4 years. I struggle to pay bills. I am in no way rich other than the richness I get from being a father.

    My mission is to speak loudly and often to bring closure and justice to victims. Not to vilify the people in the pews. Wake up and smell the corruption!! Your Pope is not innocent!!!

    September 25, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  2. Barkingkitty

    “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.”

    The ones that don't wake up first and come to the realization that organized religion in general, and the catholic church in particular, is a complete farce. All built upon power, money, lies, and victimization. Their purpose is to control. The open-minded and educated youth don't grow up to fill the pews – the reject the entire notion of god and christianity.

    September 25, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
  3. Amado

    Sounds like this wants the old guy liquified in the blender and fed to the dogs to top it off! The pastor was human and he has to understand that, because even the law released him half the way.

    September 25, 2010 at 11:32 am |
  4. Cam

    When will the Catholic Church realize that they are not above the law! There are likely 100's of preists and bishops that have committed acts of crimes or are aware of many others. Somehow they feel that these acts can be wiped under the carpets and be dealt with within their own. WRONG, may God condemn their souls and play havoc on their conscience until eternity.

    September 25, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  5. CnnBlogposts r a mess

    I give up...can't post these keep going back 50 or more posts!


    Great post and VERY well said!

    September 25, 2010 at 11:17 am | Report abuse | Reply


    I wish CNN would fix this post blog. I just made a comment to Bill, and it posted BACK about 50 or so posts up! >Sigh< How fustratiing!!!

    September 25, 2010 at 11:21 am

    September 25, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  6. KT

    And why isn't anyone reporting on the fact that when offending priests are finally moved, it's to missionary outposts like among the Inuit who have no recourse to get media attention to the rampant continuation of church sanctioned pedophilia?

    September 25, 2010 at 11:21 am |
  7. QuestionMark

    I wish CNN would fix this post blog. I just made a comment to Bill, and it posted BACK about 50 or so posts up! >Sigh< How fustratiing!!!

    September 25, 2010 at 11:21 am |
  8. QuestionMark


    Great post and VERY well said!

    September 25, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  9. Hollah

    As a father, I can say this. If I ever find out some priest, teacher or boy scout leader laid one finger on one of my sons. I would rectify the situation immediately. A sturdy piece of hickory is a lot more effective than years of legal wrangling.

    September 25, 2010 at 11:16 am |
  10. Chewy

    Religion, like any other man made thing, is inherently corrupt and prone to injustices like this. The thing about religion is that people hold on so tightly to this illusion that its actually backed by something real, some "god." So they continue to believe in religions like christianity that have been (and clearly still are) the vehicles for atrocity, cruelty, manipulation, etc. Until the world lets go of these fairy tales and accepts them as nothing more than the rest of the much better written mythologies, we will be holding ourselves back from progression in the most basic sense within our personal selves. this is my opinion anyway.

    I think this pope is disgusting and I would slap him in the face any day that I could get close enough to him. Or just shout some words at him and tell him how disgusting he is. No use getting locked up for assault over some pathetic excuse of a man who is honestly lower than dirt for letting this slide, I dont care who thinks of him as a "holy man."

    September 25, 2010 at 11:11 am |
  11. Cam

    When will the Catholic church realize they are not above the law!!! I would bet a majority of Priests and Bishops have committed acts of crimes and or are aware of them and feel that they can deal with these acts within their own. Wake up to reality and may the Lord condemn your souls for such acts!

    September 25, 2010 at 11:09 am |
  12. Big Dinasaur

    My bones were planted in the earth to confuse you! RAR!!

    September 25, 2010 at 11:06 am |
  13. Illalung

    The abuse of priests (people in power) is coming to light in the US.
    Unfortunately, in Canada, the abuse began in the 1950's when the so called Residential School Systems opened up. The government had to find a way to break down the aboriginal families.
    These 'schools' were for aboriginal children to be assimilated into western society. Children were removed from their homes as young as 2 yrs. old. The Government set up the Family Allowance system for families, the system used this as a form of 'trade' – if your child did not attend school – no Family Allowance. This was one form to degrade and break down families. The children were abused in every form, and after all the abuse – not even a single report card to families (who may not see their child for up to 12 years).
    In the end, people who have decision making powers should not be above the law – when a priest was convicted or found out, they just moved them to another church. All the abuse the priests placed on children will come forth.

    September 25, 2010 at 11:04 am |
  14. Monbois

    I'm surprised CNN is bothering to tell the alleged victims' side of the story. After John Paul II kicked the gilded bucket they became the de facto Catholic News Network.

    Josh Levin must be very lonely.

    September 25, 2010 at 11:00 am |
  15. QuestionMark

    I would also add that your comment about Uncle, Cousins, etc, is lame at best. We are talking here SPECIFICALLY about abuse by the priests within the Catholic Church...these are people who claim to be "standing" in for Jesus? That eliminates the Aunts, Uncles, Cousins..
    I ask you, would you feel more comfortable leaving your child with a priest or nun, then a regualr ole daycare worker, cafateria person, etc?
    People would have been more comfortable with the first 2 options, since these people are suppose to have committed thier lives to the Holy Church, and the ones who stand in for Jesus. Naturally you would probably feel your children were safer in thier care then that of a regular lay person.
    So your analogy in my book, is not good by comparison.

    Kate is not showing Bigotry or ignorance...you are. You need to STOP defending this. Crime is crime.

    Keep in mind, not all share that the RCC is the "true" church, since some of us have sufficient reason to question that the "catholic fathers" didn't hijack it in the first place. IF they were the "true" church, they have sure screwed up the original version that Jesus gave.
    I think the true church is made up of ALL christian believers, who have done what Jesus commanded.

    Even other Catholics and Catholic priests are calling for accountibi-l-ity by the Rcc and the Pope...go here

    September 25, 2010 at 10:59 am |
  16. QuestionMark


    In defense of Kate being wrong about percentages...

    The evidence is that a higher percentage of Catholic priests and male Religious m-ol-est
    children more than other ministers of religion. Clergy of all de-n-o-minations do not molest
    equally. In her foreword, the lawyer, Sylvia Demerest cites a 1995 survey of 19,000
    treating professionals, funded by the National Centre on Child Abuse and Neglect. The
    study found that in the US, 94% of abuses by religious authorities were s-e-x-ual in nature.
    Over half of these cases (54%) involved perpetrators and victims who were Catholic, even
    though Roman Catholics comprise only 25% of the United States population


    'The problem is not just with the fraction of priests who m-o-l-ests youngsters, but in
    an ecclesiastical power structure which harbours pe-do-philes, conceals other
    s-e-x-u-a-l behaviour patterns among its clerics and uses the strategies of duplicity
    and counter-a–t-tack against the victims.'- Joughin, M. 'Church response to the s-e-x
    abuse priest', In Fidelity, No.8. September 1995, p. 1.

    September 25, 2010 at 10:50 am |
  17. Ghost of Father Murphy

    What's the problem?
    You kids liked it and thought it was fun at the time.
    Now you're trying to cash in?

    September 25, 2010 at 10:48 am |
  18. biggie

    leave the Pope alone, stop this war against Roman Catholics, and down with CNN. I don't see any outrage in the Polanski thing. JAIL POLANSKI, CANONIZE PIUS 12, AND LEAVE THE PRESENT POPE ALONE....

    September 25, 2010 at 10:46 am |
    • daryl

      Yes, the pope has had his fun with the little boys already.

      October 8, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  19. Albert

    You are leaving out one very important detail, the Catholic church is far removed from Bible teachings. Even if it were to remove all the pedophiles (not likely), it will still have to answer to God for all the scriptural lies that it teaches. Hellfire. Trinity, pagan holidays like Easter and Christmas, etc. Even its hierarchy of Popes on down to priests cannot be found as a teaching in the Bible. Most Catholics are in this religion because of tradition. Very rarely will a Catholic engage in a Bible discussion basically because they do not no the Bible, only what their priests tell them.

    September 25, 2010 at 10:40 am |
    • Mainer101

      A good CHRISTIAN knows Easter and Christmas have to do with the life and death of Christ... What are you talking about?

      September 25, 2010 at 10:42 am |
    • Truthspeak

      Christmas is celebrated on Mithras mid winter festival. A compromise to the pre existing religions. Jesus' bday is Aug 21 7 Bc. Any good Christian would know that. Lol

      September 25, 2010 at 11:12 am |
    • Peacemaker

      Wow....... are you wrong! We, Catholics, DO read the Bible. Have you read yours? Because Jesus makes it clear that YOU are not to judge! Catholics are Christians, the way we worship God is the Catholic tradition. Ignorance is no excuse.

      September 28, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
    • Whaat?

      I resent those statements. As it's been said Easter and Christmas were set to their current dates in order to better explain the Word and connect to the pagan people of Gaul. And the Trinity is pagan? Any good Christian knows that the Holy Trinity is God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit...that's about as Christian as it gets. Finally, do you understand how difficult it would be to manage the Church if there were no priests, bishops, cardinals or Popes? That's like running a corporation with your only boss being the CEO. Man read a bible or something; you sound stupid.

      September 30, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
  20. Peggy

    How anyone can with a fully functioning brain can continue to believe and support ANY religion in this day & age is beyond me. Religion is nothing more than more than mind control & rituals created by men to control, distract & amuse and the masses. We are beyond that. We now have facebook, CNN, XBox you name it! Go to Yoga, be kind to friends & family for your spirituality and leave this outdated evil BS behind. The POPE and all evil priests belong behind bars, I wish they would rot in hell but, alas, it does not exist,

    September 25, 2010 at 10:38 am |
    • Mainer101

      You're trying to tell me the markets you speak of have not mind control over the masses? You've got things backwards!

      September 25, 2010 at 10:41 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.