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. BVB

    The pope is not above the law. He is held acountable for all his actions and decisions that he makes on behalf of the Catholic Church. I have no faith in the Roman Catholic Church, and and most thankful that I am from another faith "Lutheran" You don't hear of these sort of scandles in the Lutheran Church. The Vatican has a way of waltzing their away from the real issue of dealiing with corrput priests. Many who have left the Catholic Church has left for very good reason

    September 27, 2010 at 12:16 am |
  2. Carmelita

    We need to learn and teach our children the difference between respect and blind admiration. I attended the Catholic church until I realized I wasn't comfortable, didn't understand Mass since the priests spoke in Latin. But I really didn't understand why the priest's assistants were always boys. I was a young girl at the time, hadn't heard of pedophiles...yet. That was in the late 50s. I ventured back to the church in the 70s because a friend convinced me the Catholic church had changed. I saw a black priest for the first time. But people still showed a kind of worship for a man. Only God deserves worship. This revelation about the Pope's involvement with keeping a known pedophile as a priest makes me wonder what the Catholic church plans to do about it? Nothing!

    September 27, 2010 at 12:07 am |
  3. cindy

    as a catholic, i am tempted to not go to mass until the pope changes the rules about priests getting married, and doing a thorough investigation on each one that is "hired".

    September 26, 2010 at 11:59 pm |
  4. warren dodge

    The priests that molest are mentally ill and belong in hospital prisons, the bishops that knowingly allow this to occur are criminals that should be incarcerated even longer.

    September 26, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
  5. Janet Powers

    We need more good men like Ryan, who are willing to take action, and see it through.
    Unfortunately most people like to "not get involved".
    That's where trouble starts. . .
    So sorry about this.

    September 26, 2010 at 11:40 pm |
  6. Rhoisin

    Who is orchestrating this campaign; the BBC and CNN have been relentlessly attacking the Catholic Church for months. I have never heard a single criticism of a Rabbi in any respect moral or otherwise? There is an unrelenting campaign to 'tear down this church'. I am sure abuse has happened but I went right through the Catholic School system and to a Catholic College at a university and I never heard a single whisper of such abuse; neither did my three brothers who went through the same system. There must have been abuse but how come we never heard a word about it as we progressed through our school system. Our parents also went through the Catholic School system and they never heard about it either? I can't believe there was a conspiracy of silence? Someone would have said something...

    September 26, 2010 at 11:38 pm |
    • daryl

      Rhoisin, maybe you weren't the priests type.

      October 8, 2010 at 4:57 pm |
  7. LMD

    Any one who can still stand in defense of the Catholic church after all that has come tolight,not just with these cases of abuse,but the centuries of killing,of blatant out right lies,of being accomplices to many tragedies throughout its existence,surely must be so brainwashed that deprogramming is the only way to be free.These are men,who by virtue of some archaic cult,have done what to some is the equivalent of murder. They killed the child that used to be and left so may as empty shells,with nightmares,with scars that will never go away. If you choose to be led by men,for that is all they are,no more,no less,then expect to have the same as any other man that lives and all that goes with it.For so many reasons,including,but not limited too,the Catholic church should be disbanded and shut down once and for all.

    September 26, 2010 at 11:27 pm |
  8. georg004

    anybody notice that McCormick is a poofter, always has been, always will be? Only a poofter would let another man put his hand on his thigh and leave it there.

    September 26, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
  9. elly


    September 26, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
  10. Bill

    As it is on Earth so shall it be in Heaven.

    Remember that?

    These pedophiles are at the right hand of God because the Pope, the mouth of your God said so.

    While every CHILD that couldn't live with the shame is burning in Hell.

    Argue it all you like. Its your laws.

    September 26, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
  11. Yorkie

    Yorkie here again.
    Castration of the priests can work in mysterious ways!!!!

    September 26, 2010 at 11:09 pm |
  12. Ghunt


    "why not let the law prevail. allow to church and the guilty be prosecuted without any interference."

    Perhaps you can tell me where I have said I am against the law prevailing. Apparently you don't like part of the law dealing with statute of limitations. The reason why many of these have not been prosecuted. I wish every single one of these cases had been prosecuted but it has much more to do with our laws than the vatican preventing anything.

    "as far as your numbers go, your church is declining."

    Your handwaving proves this how? But even if it were true so what. Gideons forces were widdled down to 300 and he went against 10,000. Declining and increasing have little to do with truth. That is if you read and understand your bible.

    "its a fact"
    You seem to have trouble presenting evidence. But again if you are right so what.

    "if you have nothing to fear then let the legal process goes its course."

    I have nothing to fear bill. NOTHING. If every preist that has abused is prosecuted and found guilty it won't shake my faith one iota because I understand that pharasees did not prove the jewish religion wrong by the scandal they caused. jesus did not tell people in Matt 23 to leave the Jewish faith over their scandal. He said "DO AS THEY TELL YOU". Matt 23 is in your bible isn't it bill? Truth was not changed when 11 out of 12 apostles abandoned jesus at the cross was it bill?

    "your church is not above the law"

    Where have I said they were? bill this is simply prejudice speaking through you.

    "my guess more than you do.. but that is just an assumption:"
    Not a good guesser I would guess.

    "try living by the spirit of what jesus christ was saying"

    better guesser than judge though.

    "he cared for those in society that are usually ignored and left."

    The Catholic Church provides more hospitals, schools, food shelfs, homes for the homeless, etc. than any other organization bill. I support them.

    "your priests that have committed crime have done against what the church was created to stand for"

    SOME have bill. A small percentage bill. You like to broadbrush.

    "toss them out.. hand them over to the law"

    Some have been tossed out. The rules are changed so that more of the perpetrators can be.

    September 26, 2010 at 11:00 pm |
  13. Topaz007

    These people are being exposed. They knew what they were doing. To hurt a child in any way, and this is much worse, has started an awareness that will not close.

    ...until ALL religions are done away with...

    It is coming...

    September 26, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
  14. Northwing

    Getting the Pope to defrock these priests. Is like getting the Pentagon to say it committed war crimes.

    September 26, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
  15. Elias Sabat

    As a parent the first thing I told my son as he was asked to serve as an altar boy: Beware of the priest. Benedict should step down a first step to clean this mess.

    September 26, 2010 at 10:35 pm |
  16. Ghunt


    The Catholic Church has gained membership but even if it didn't that would not prove the rightness or wrongness of it. Nor does scandal. Paul saw scandal in Corinth, John saw scandal, even 11 of the 12 apostles abandoned Jesus at the cross. Yet you claim these sins prove something.

    why not let the law prevail. allow to church and the guilty be prosecuted without any interference.


    "as far as your numbers go, your church is declining."

    Your handwaving doesn't make it so but even if you can prove it, so what. The Jews grew and declined. Gideon's army was whittled down to I believe 300 men and beat 10,000 so whether it is declining or not proves nothing bill.

    "if you have nothing to fear then let the legal process goes its course."

    I have nothing against the law running its course and in many if not most of these cases the legal system has been applied. Many times the statute of limitations has prevented prosecution. That is a part of OUR legal system bill. I am all for perpetrators being prosecuted. Out of prejudice (something rather unchristian) you make statements like this.

    "your church is not above the law"

    Where have I said it was. Again I am all for prosecution. Again prejudice is what is behind your words.

    "read my bible?

    i have and know it well"

    Not doing much to prove it since you don't rightly judge the place of scandal in the Church and it's implications concerning truth.

    "my guess more than you do.. but that is just an assumption"

    Guess again.
    try living by the spirit of what jesus christ was saying"

    Your a better guesser than a judge but fail on both counts.

    he cared for those in society that are usually ignored and left.

    "your priests that have committed crime have done against what the church was created to stand for"

    SOME of them have bill. Less than 2% of them Bill. but you point the finger at all it seems. That would be bearing false witness. can you find that in your bible bill. Try exodus 20.

    "toss them out.. hand them over to the law"

    Those that could be have in general been handed over bil. Again clearly you do not know the law concerning statute of limitations. It's not the Vatican's law bill. It does not prevent lawsuits and so there have been many.

    September 26, 2010 at 10:33 pm |
    • Peacemaker

      Well said!

      September 28, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  17. vseago

    The Pope is an accomplice....by law he is guilty by association....... by not defrocking the priest.
    Just a stronger case for allowing priests to marry....
    It makes me nauseated that the Catholic Church could not admit and still comes up with excuses
    for such behavior by its priests.

    September 26, 2010 at 10:29 pm |
    • Ghunt


      If a bishop did this to you why don't you tell it to the media. In this day that will be all over the news. My guess is because it is a lie.

      September 26, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
  18. katie

    Abuse comes to all walks of life. These people look for positions of power over little kids. The church is not the only avenue for this type of behavior to take place. Teachers,neighbors,uncles,fathers all types etc....

    September 26, 2010 at 10:25 pm |
  19. Name*ali

    As much as I read that the papacy system is the anti Christ. They r proving themselves well. I hope the leader the pontiff does the right thing for the Catholics....and that would be not coverings up and to pray.....for the victims...

    September 26, 2010 at 10:13 pm |
  20. katie

    The law should be 5years or less to report these crimes of abuse,not 30-40 years later

    September 26, 2010 at 10:11 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
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.