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. Norm

    Conspiracy for financial gain.
    Where's the proof. All we have is the word of the supposed victims $$$$$
    And the media and lawyers pushing them to fabricate these sick , twisted lies against the church.$$$$$$
    We all know there's a small enclave of lost souls that have rejected God and want to profit from it.$$$$$
    We're on to you. Good luck ever proving anything in a court of law.
    Innocent until PROVEN guilty.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:21 am |
    • iluvskittles

      Wow...you sound so convinced that these people were lying. I guess you were there when the abuse was going on huh? Well, good luck helping to pay for all the court fees and lawsuits against the priest when they do sick things like this because that's where all you hard earned money that you so graciously give to the church pays for.....but i'm sure you already knew that, right?

      September 24, 2010 at 11:36 am |
    • jenny

      If it were you norm who was abused as a child – please tell us how you would prove that you had been abused when
      everyone you went to wouldn't listen – how would you prove that –

      September 24, 2010 at 11:54 am |
    • Real life

      Norm must be a priest.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
    • LarryP

      Proven? More than one priest has admitted to molestation and if the Catholic church was really interested in anything other than money the Vatican wouldn't be so lavish, they would spend some of that cash feeding the hungry and helping the poor. The Catholic Church has caused more pain and suffering than any other organization on the face of the earth....The Inqusition.....the Crusades.....forbiding condoms in AIDS infested Africa....on and on....pathetic

      September 24, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
    • Doubtfull

      I'm sure you are not Norm_al but Ab_Norm_al

      September 24, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
    • Norm

      Thank you all for confirming my original post.
      There is NO proof. Even the preist that was put in jail, was put there on here say.
      He never confessed to anything without being physically beaten and pressured into it.
      I'd believe a holy man of God way before some lying child that was probably punished for picking his nose and has revenge on his mind.
      But that's our anti-religious society for you.
      The proof of THAT is right here in all of your disgusting comments.
      May God have mercy on your lost souls.

      September 24, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
    • Critter


      You have proven your guilt already. Why do you add to it?

      September 24, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  2. The way it should have worked...

    I have to smirk when they say "Canon Law forbid it"... the purpose of Canon Law was to force the perpetrator to admit his crime by openly asking to be defrocked. The idea that it barred the Cardinal from taking action is ludicrous. All the Cardinal would have to do is say "I will expose you publicly if you don't request your dismissal" and the problem is solved. To take a position of "I can't do anything" is just hiding behind the laws.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:21 am |
  3. Anon

    Enron, Worldcomm, etc.. the person in charge went to jail. Same should be with the papacy.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:20 am |
    • John

      We're not talking about actions in the same sequence approved by the boss. We are talking about a man who is already in prison and that the local bishop is asking Vatican to de-frock. The Vatican simply said – he's your priest, you de-frock him – the procedure is already in place just follow it.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:25 am |
    • John

      and I guarantee you it would have taken a lot less time for the bishop, following Canon Law, to de-frock this priest than it took for the local authorities to arrest, build and have a trial and render a verdict for this priest...

      September 24, 2010 at 11:29 am |
  4. fireybuddha

    how/why does ANYONE continue to support this church, emotionally, spiritually or financially? how heinous and widespread this is. you risk your OWN children's safety.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  5. John

    I don't think people are looking at the facts in the article. The Priest was already in jail – say that again- already in jail when the bishop wrote to the vatican requesting that the priest be de-frocked. Father was not working in a church or even saying mass. he was sitting in a jail cell. Cardinal Ratzinger told the local bishop that this was a local matter and should have been handled locally with a local trial. If you had a teacher in California who was convicted of molestation and in jail, you wouldn't write to Washington to have his teaching license removed, you do it locally. That is exactly what Ratzinger was saying – fix this locally!

    September 24, 2010 at 11:19 am |
    • Peter

      But, John, why read and look at facts when it's so much easier and more fun to flame away like an idiot?

      September 24, 2010 at 11:21 am |
    • John

      Excellent point, Peter!

      September 24, 2010 at 11:23 am |
    • Norm

      Thats right. People don't want facts or proof. They want the church to suffer and they want as much money as they can milk out of this whole lie. This is a direct result of Satan's influence on the lost souls of this world. The church is under attack and the media is on the front line. Bring in the second wave. The lawyers and the liars.
      This might be a minor inconvenience to the church but it's not going to bring it down.
      Nice try you human diciples of Satan.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:31 am |
    • Critter

      Looks to me like John, Peter, Norm, and a few others are merely one and the same person – and absolutely disgusting on top of it all.
      Child of heII, your words have no effect on me. Your end will be the same as those whom you follow. The Pope is damned out of his own mouth, as are you. Escape while you can, for everything happens in the blink of an eye.

      September 24, 2010 at 7:36 pm |
  6. Peacemaker

    First of all, I am a Roman Catholic. Secondly, to those who will post that Catholics are not Christians, please, consider that we profess that Jesus Christ IS our Lord and Savior; yes, we do ask the Mother of Jesus, Mary to pray for us, there is nothing wrong with this. Please do not judge all Catholics, by the sins of the hierarchy!

    I am DISGUSTED that Ratzinger (he is not my leader!) refused to defrock a pedophile! This is not new, there are other stories similar to this one! HOW CAN the Council of Catholic Bishops, stand by and ALLOW this to happen????? Are the Bishops fools?

    There are Catholics, Conservative Catholics, who will defend Ratzinger! Ratzinger's refusal to defrock a PEDOPHILE IS WRONG..... IT IS CRIMINAL..... IT IS A SIN.

    Catholics, when will we stand up and say "NO MORE!" ? When will our Laity demand CHANGE?! We can not stand by and support the Vatican who has for centuries committed crimes against humanity! Sure we have the largest Charities, we have hospitals, universities, schools...... Catholics do a lot of good! But our Leaders are CORRUPT! I am ashamed! I remain Catholic, because of the people in the pews, those of us who serve the poor, work for CHANGE everyday! We, the Laity, must stand up and demand that Ratzinger STEP DOWN! Write to the Bishops, demand CHANGE. I will, will YOU?!

    September 24, 2010 at 11:17 am |
    • Norm

      There is never any proof of these molestations. Just some slanderous person against the church for monetary gains.
      Thi isi why these people have never come out about the so called abuse. Until now, when they see they can make a buck off of it. This is a green light for anyone that was ever a catholic and in a position to claim molestation by a now dead preist that can't even defend himself.
      Where's your proof. The world is full of evil liars, looking for just one thing. $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

      September 24, 2010 at 11:27 am |
    • Vorpul


      I think it's wayyy past time for you and your family to leave the Catholic Church.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:29 am |
    • Peacemaker

      @VORPUL: Yes, I know its hard to stay in the Catholic church. I may be naive but I believe that one person working for change can change the church. Thanks for your comment.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:57 am |
    • Rob G.

      Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God!

      Thank you for your post. Sadly, peace will NEVER come to this world until all peoples can unconditionally love, forgive and realize that Man has assigned a point value system to breaking laws, religious OR civil. God did NOT place weights on His laws. God viewed sin as breaking ANY of his laws. Murder carries the same punishment as does telling a lie, committing adultery and anything else the bible teaches. The penalty for breaking one of God's laws was to spend a Christless eternity. The Old Testament believers lived under "The Law" and discovered that it was impossible to live under the law. God in His infinte mercy allowed for sacrifice to take the place of His peoples punishment. His son Jesus Christ was sent as the ultimate sacrifice to take away the sin punishment for all believers. The bible reads "For ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Not some, not most, not a few, but "ALL." We now live under God's grace. If mercy is defined as NOT giving you what you deserve, then grace is defined as GIving you what you DON'T deserve.

      As such, as Christians, we should NOT be seeking revenge or retribution against any sinner, but should be seeking to forgive them of their trepasses, and to foster reconciliation. I DO NOT condone the actions of the pedophile priests or the Catholic church in general. As there are no perfect people, there are no perfect churches, The hierarchy of the church needs to quit hiding behind their robes, get back to bible basics and become accountable for their transgressions. If they don't parishoners and ultimately catholicism is doomed to suffer a Christless eternity.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'There is never any proof of these molestations. Just some slanderous person against the church for monetary gains'
      Oh right, so none of these allegations are ever, or have ever been true? Despite the priest in the story actually being sent to jail for his abuse, but hey, nevermind huh? It was a nice theory will it lasted.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • CD6910

      Anytime you state something outright in your first line shows me that you aren't what you stated. It's excusatory. If you are Roman Catholic you are to follow the teachings of the Church. Your local bishop is the primary guide you have. From there it leads to the Bishop of Rome – the Pope. Get it together, man!

      September 24, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
    • Doubtfull

      Ab_Norm_al is either a priest or a phedophile.
      The f_cking priest was put to jail and your still saying there is no proof.
      What proof do you want . . . semen taken from the ass of the kid?

      September 24, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
    • N. MacE

      You said all that so well. I am a Christian gay guy who follows the Rules.
      The Pope is a fool. Will he ever repent?
      And gold is worth 1300$ Dear God!

      September 24, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
    • zk

      Thank you Peacemaker.... I am a Catholic and had wonderful spiritual guidance by my priests throughout my 50 years...and I agree with you 100 percent...Change is immediately required in the heirachy but my faith is not shaken...

      September 24, 2010 at 10:41 pm |
  7. Dex

    What a cult.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  8. Benjamin

    CNN: "We declare Ratziner guilty of all crimes committed by priests [even though Ratzinger committed no crime, the crimes were over 25 years ago, he had no knowledge of the crimes until 20 + years after the fact, etc. etc.]".

    September 24, 2010 at 11:16 am |
  9. Dwe

    Simply put: The pope is a liar and should be behind bars.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:16 am |
    • Peter

      The only thing simple is your level of intelligence.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:18 am |
    • Vorpul


      Don't bother with Peter. He's a child abusing prlck, I guess, and secretly admires the Pope and those other fellas.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:27 am |
    • Peter


      My long lost friend! Are you familiar with the term "libel"?

      September 24, 2010 at 11:30 am |
    • Vorpul


      Yes. How is it that you like child abuse? You must really like it a lot to keep defending the Pope and all those other child abusers. I think you are a prlck and probably a child abuser as well. That is not libel. Maybe you'd better look it up, prlck.

      How sad that you cannot do anything about "libel" here. I would have fun with that.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:58 am |
    • Dwe

      @ Peter:

      What a pathetic comment. That is what people do when they have nothing interesting to say.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  10. Paul

    Priests are appointed by God to thier vocation???? God is disgraced by these actions and is up there shaking his head. As a non-catholic, I do not understand why pedophiles are so prevelant in the catholic church? Can someone help me with that?? I married a catholic, but there is not way my son or daughter is going to be catholic now. This is a disgrace to God and our community. I cant even think of putting money in the collection plate at mass, when I know how much is going to the lawyers representing these priests. Our catholic schools are closing and it all stems back to this. Is someone could tell me why priests are so much more likely to abuse children and why the church thinks they should just be forgiven, I would appreciate it. ??

    September 24, 2010 at 11:16 am |
    • Peacemaker

      You are right, Paul. I also believe that the shortage of priests is directly related to the SINS of the Hierarchy! IF the Vatican will not CHANGE........ I believe that GOD will take care to force it to!

      September 24, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  11. PopePedo4U

    im 25 years old, a presbyterian, and the only thing i know for sure about the catholic faith is that they confess, they drink real wine at communion, and clergy members molest. so for all u naive catholics who think that the pope is without fault...u are crazy..i would never bring my child to a catholic church, the chance of him coming out of it unabused is about as good as NOBAMA's approval rating.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:10 am |
    • Peter

      Dear heretic,

      Thank you for your worthless opinion.

      The world

      September 24, 2010 at 11:15 am |
    • george

      Google "presbyterian child abuse" and read a few stories. Though the stories are not as prevalent, you have no right to cast the first (or any) stone.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:15 am |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'Dear heretic, Thank you for your worthless opinion. Sincerely, The world'
      Thanks Peter but you don't speak for the world, who I would hazard a guess would be just as dismissive of your opinion.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
    • Catie

      Actually, there is a larger percentage of child abuse cases in the Protestant churches. .8-1.3 % of Priests are accused whereas 1-3% of Protestant Pastors. But, because of the aforementioned comment about the whole of the Catholic Church it is not brought up as a total number but individual numbers. Abuse is all bad all the time. But, to omit facts in an article is irresponsible

      September 24, 2010 at 10:40 pm |
  12. David, CA

    “Today, Canon law has a different scenario,” Scicluna said. “This thing would not happen under [today’s] Canon Law.” -Monsignor Charles Scicluna
    It is only changed because the victims have come forward, people have opened their eyes and DRAGGED the church's crimes out into the open while the church has fought tooth and nail to keep everything nice and tidy and hidden away. Ratzinger was "outraged" when police raided diocese in Belgium where out of control abuses were taking place in every single diocese! He was only "angered" that MORE crimes of the church were about to be made public- not that children were being abused and horrible molested. And today the denial and stupidity continues. The pope's "apology" in the UK this week he never admitted the church's culpability to these hideous crimes. Even on this board apologists continue to think it as just a few bad apples. The church is rotten from the head down. It's sickening.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:08 am |
  13. carolae

    Why aren't these young boys reporting this abuse to their parents or police? Are they afraid they may not be believed which is probably the reason they don't. No child should have to endure this for years and then, 10, 20+ years later, announce what has been done to them.....incredible. These priests should be dealt with just as the predators we have here today are....not hide behind the cloth of the church. As the acronym says, WWJD......

    September 24, 2010 at 11:08 am |
  14. David Ehrenstein

    Who cares about "Canon Law"? These child rapists must be brought to heel like the criminals that they are. And this won't happen until the police acquire the cojones to respond to comlainst by going directly into churches and hauling the perps away.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:07 am |
    • texratt

      Child molesters are committing crimes. They must be tried for criminal acts in the jurisdiction in which the alleged crime occurred. The pope's apologies are not near enough. Until the catholic church quits covering up criminal acts, the church should be sued as that is a way to get the message across.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
  15. Russ

    The gay pedophile priest are like icebergs only a small portion ever surfaces

    September 24, 2010 at 11:07 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Why did you use the word "gay"? The article did not use this word. Are you trying to link gay and pedophile? You do know that there is no connection, don't you?

      September 24, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
  16. Benjamin

    The priest is in prison. Due to canon law Ratzinger could not defrock him. Now Ratzinger is guilty. Excellent logic CNN.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:06 am |
    • WeBeenJamin

      ey mon
      talkin to dat easy ska mon dot CNN
      I and I am tinkin you have de last word mon
      when you talk to yoursef
      don talk like dat

      September 25, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  17. Robert

    It's far past embarrasing for CNN to continually trot these old stories out there in an attempt to frame the Pope as a perpetrator. Can someone be convicted in civil law without a trial? No. Why would it be any different under canon law? What this article basically tells me is that Cardinal Ratzinger as head of the CDF had no authority to defrock anybody, so why this witch hunt?

    September 24, 2010 at 11:00 am |
    • Angel

      Because he's the Pope, represents God, suppose to be a supreme religious and moral leader. That's why

      September 24, 2010 at 11:11 am |
    • w5observer10

      We must call out the Pope/Cardinal Ratzinger, because he has been representing this organization in various capacities and upholding its m.o. by 'pretending' to execute justice. Why do so many complaints go unanswered for years? Simply to hope that the victims will give up. Justice in this organization only happens, when the the priest himself surrenders to local police and even then our courts are lenient enough to issue minimum sentences.

      September 27, 2010 at 5:30 am |
  18. Angel

    This needs to be discussed as many times as it takes to help the abused feel like there is justice and understand that a religion they trusted so much could let them down. God is not a religion.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:59 am |
  19. Rabia Diluvio

    Aside from prison for the guilty...
    The only way the Catholic Church could even begin to remedy the problem of pedophile priests is to drop the outdated canon that requires priests to be celibate and instead REQUIRE that they marry. When those who would try to hide from themselves and their urges in celibacy are not attracted to the priesthood to begin with, this sort of abuse will diminish.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:57 am |
    • Tom

      I am Catholic and I agree with you Rabia. For years now, I believe that the priest celibacy law should be repealed and that priests should be allowed to be married. Maybe not a requirement, but definitely be an option.

      September 24, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
    • Rabia Diluvio

      The only way it would work would be to make it a requirement–and why should it not be? Among his many duties, a priest has the role of counseling people on matters of marriage and love...how can he do this if he has effectively amputated that part of his life experience? In various orthodox sects a priest does have a wife and the wife has a role in the church as well. It is expected.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
  20. Scott

    It's not that the story's old–it's that it's thoroughly misleading–like thousands written in the last year "What the Pope Knew" screams the headline. What indeed–nothing until years after the abuse, the abuser's arrest and imprisonment. "That [the abuse] happened 25 years ago." That's 1985, when the priest was locked up for 14 years. Sounds like when the abuse was revealed it was dealt with and punished as a crime. If he was in prison, being a priest or not was totally irrelevant to protecting anyone from Campbell. Yet such stories make it seem that then Cardinal Ratzinger somehow failed to take action that he could have to stop abuse and protect minors–a clear falsehood. Ratzinger wrote that he couldn't laicize Campbell under Canon Law at the time. When he was able to change Canon Law, he did, avoiding the "scandal" of such a criminal who betrayed his vows remaining a priest. A good and helpful change, but not at all necessary to pull priests out of active ministry and refer credible charges to civil authorities–for years standard policy in U.S. dioceses, and the responsbilitiy of each bishop–not of the Vatican or the Pope.

    This kind of distortion in order to target the Pope is irresonsible and malicious, and one can read here the bitter, hateful and biogted kind of responses it brings out.

    September 24, 2010 at 10:56 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.