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. lil' ol' me

    Perhaps if the Catholic church didn't require that its priests not marry, it wouldn't attract as many sickos. It wouldn't solve everything, but surely it would help. Of all the cleary un-Biblical teachings of the Catholic church, that one has always stood out to me as the most absurd.

    September 27, 2010 at 9:08 am |
    • daryl

      You don't get it! They became priests to molest little boys.

      October 5, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
  2. ScottH

    I have no problem with this CNN journalism covering what the Vatican knew. That's their job. Now- I say this to CNN. Do this same job with Islam. No more soft-soaping of the Muslim religion and practices in the interests of Ted Turner's left wing views on political correctness. Do it.

    September 27, 2010 at 7:08 am |
  3. abbaduke

    Yes, all horrors will be exposed! I eagerly look forward to the overdue final gasps of the evil Roman Catholic Church!

    September 27, 2010 at 5:01 am |
  4. jimmo

    "he couldn’t defrock Campbell without Campbell’s permission"????

    Excuse me??? Isn't that like saying you can't sent a criminal to prison without his permission?

    Well, Joe Ratzinger is now the pope. Now he has the power the change it. Simply issue an edict that says a priest who molests children is automatically defrocked and excommunicated. Is he going to do it? Is he going to do anything other than just mouth off in public about how "terrible" it is? The chance Ratzinger does anything effective to stop the world's worst crime is is about a good as a snoball's chance in, well, you know where.

    September 27, 2010 at 4:31 am |
  5. abbaduke

    I am disgusted that this country even has diplomatic ties with Vatican City ( thanks a lot Ronald Reagan). Ratzinger, a former member of Hitler's Nazi youth organization, should meet the same fate that Savonarola met, in Florence – BURNED AT THE STAKE!!!!

    September 27, 2010 at 4:22 am |
  6. Dave

    To the author of this post Brian Rokus: in case you haven't noticed, the report about the role that B16 played in this Campbell case came up MONTHS ago. And just in case you weren't playing attention, the defense for B16 had also presented their case. All this information is missing from your post. Please do your homework and stop misleading readers. thank you.

    September 27, 2010 at 3:33 am |
  7. Todd

    God doesn't believe in canon law. A bunch of child molesters conceived of the idea in order to protect their own immoral interests.
    This is one very sick, very disfunctional body of believers know as the Catholic Church. The Pope should be fired and the whole operation shut down like a daycare center that abuses children. Oh wait, they aren't like an abusive center, they are an abusive child molesting bunch of heathen miscreants dressed in funny bathrobes so their pointed tenting is minimized. Filthy ,filthy church leaders the whole bunch.There are plenty of other religions to try if that's your deal.

    September 27, 2010 at 1:56 am |
  8. DS

    I am immigrant to this country and after reading all this scared to even look at the church.
    I don't want my children to see or hear about church. God save this universe.

    September 27, 2010 at 1:49 am |
  9. HowBoutThis

    Perhaps the Vatican should be invaded, and the tyranny squashed. Lop off the head of the Catholic church, it offends pretty much anyone with any sensibility.

    September 27, 2010 at 1:40 am |
  10. @98122*

    The priest was wrong and deserves punishment. The pope had nothing to do with it- it's like blaming the DA when a long time elapses before an accused goes to trial.

    CNN has an anti religious bias to advance it's atheistic pro- gay liberal world view.

    September 27, 2010 at 1:36 am |
  11. Stormiee

    The Vatican has been covering up these assaults on children for many decades and will always cover them up. The Vatican has many secrets and has been keeping their Christian Parishioners from them. They refuse to release many other gospels from the Holy Bible they refuse to tell the truth about anything. THE Vatican is a JOKE. I believe that GOD will damn the Priests the have hurt these children and everyone else that covered it up including the Pope to HELL one day......

    September 27, 2010 at 1:32 am |
  12. masbate

    Someone said earlier about the preiset abuse in teh thrid world countries. I woul dliek to recommend to CCN to go to and insvestigate. St Anthony smeinary In Masbate Philippines. I heard a lot of first hand account from abuesed teens from among the seminarians ther.

    September 27, 2010 at 1:14 am |
  13. rustyshunt

    Amazing how many people bend over for the Church
    In more ways than one

    No other business (that's what a church is) would ever be allowed to get away with this level of crime
    I laugh at people who devote time, money, and their children to these businesses

    A sucker is born........

    September 27, 2010 at 1:03 am |
  14. Dan

    It is sad that people think that it is a good reason to leave the church because the sins of a select few priests. I mean, it is obvious if you read that letter over you would see that defrocking is not going to solve anything. Also, it betrays a lack of knowledge as to what defrocking actually IS. Furthermore, why would you leave the Church over this? It is not like these actions suddenly nullify the fact that God became man and dies for the sins of ALL. Jeez...

    September 27, 2010 at 1:02 am |
  15. JoannaD

    http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otn.cfm?id=711 ENOUGH SAID!

    September 27, 2010 at 12:41 am |
  16. JoannaLIFE

    http://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/otn.cfm?id=711 Enough said!

    September 27, 2010 at 12:40 am |
  17. Brian

    "It just strike me as odd that Catholics aren't rising up and asking for the Pope to be arrested.".......

    You have to understand Catholic psychology. As small children they have their catechism beaten into them by the nuns. Asking a Catholic to critisize the Pope would be like asking an Orthodox Jew to eat pork.

    September 27, 2010 at 12:32 am |
  18. Martha

    I'm not here to defend the catholic priests of their wrong doing. However, the same thing is happening every where, in every religion. This is the work of the devil. Satan is making the people that we trusted do bad things so that we can turn away from God. Don't let that happened, be smarter than him.

    September 27, 2010 at 12:29 am |
  19. johnny

    first of all, id like to point out that it says nowhere that this priest was transfered to another parish.

    Therefore, i find it illogical to be angry at the pope for his role in this situation.

    In his position all he could do was follow canon law.

    September 27, 2010 at 12:24 am |
  20. We Love You Pope Benedict

    You can comment angrily about the Catholic Church all you like. It doesn't bother us Catholics too much. We know that everyone dies, and consequently, discovers the truth eventually. Clearly none of you have been blessed with anything even remotely akin to intellectual competency, but that does not mean that God, in his infinite mercy, is not lovingly waiting for you to come to Him through his bride the Church.


    September 27, 2010 at 12:21 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.