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. Daithi mac curtáin

    The Catholic church is the one true church and will survive these awful times and does who want to see its destruction should know its not the Popes church but Jesus Christ church and the gates of hell shall never pervail against it .

    October 6, 2010 at 9:51 am |
  2. daryl

    Become a catholic clergy and smoke, drink and all the tight butts you could want. Too many children, too many countries, too many popal coverups, to be untrue. Letting them marry would not solve the problem when they prefer helpless children!

    October 5, 2010 at 9:07 pm |
  3. daryl

    Priests wouldn't want to get married unless it was to multiple 10&12 year old boys.

    October 5, 2010 at 8:59 pm |
  4. michael S

    Further proof of the corruption within the Catholic church. The man named as God's mouthpiece to the world, covered up and protected a man who molested children. He should be named an accomplice and be defrocked himself. If God condones such activity, then that god is not God, and we should find another.

    October 5, 2010 at 9:05 am |
  5. Brian

    That program was a biased hit piece from beginning to end.

    September 30, 2010 at 11:48 pm |
  6. will it ever end?

    With all the news media and coverage of all the disgusting things going on with this so called religion. I would be ashamed to admit being a member of this "Country"

    September 29, 2010 at 8:43 pm |
  7. Alexander Supertramp

    Thanks, CNN, for holding up a convicted child molester like Bishop Daniel Ryan as a hero just to attack Catholic "conservative" values. You've hit an all time low.

    September 28, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
  8. Alan

    As usual CNN and the catholic haters are concerned with abuse ONLY in the Catholic Church. It's never covered anywhere else. They never show any interest in more recent abuse and in greater numbers in secular Schools and secular childrens homes, where abuse is FAR more prevalent – as are the cover-ups. Heard of the Shakeshaft reports into US schools? Why not? Heard of the Baptists refusing even to keep records of abusive clergy? Again silence. Boy Scouts hold thousands of secret records, but no one campaigns for their release. Despite multiple cases of abuse, no enquiry into secular childrens homes. Wonder why? it's called hypocrist and cover-up.

    September 28, 2010 at 7:19 pm |
  9. Don

    Addendum: Father Campbells military disposition package went all the way to the pentagon within 24 hours of my reporting to the Inspector General of his molestation of my son, partly because my plans for administering his justice had been overheard, and partly because of the Pontius Pilat syndrome. "Each General, by passing the buck upward, had essentially washed his hands of the situation". He was out of there in 48 hours, all in one piece., I was on my way to Iran for two weeks.

    This facilitated his ability to proceed first to the daisy hill puppy farm for errant priests, then to Illinois, where fresh victims awaited.

    A court martial of this sort would have embarrased the Army , the US Army Europe & 7th Army, the Army Communications Command and the Fifth Signal Command, especially during the heyday of underground newspapers (The Onion, The overseas weekly etc) I could just imagine the Army Times licking it's chops for such a story.

    Within two years after that, my son announced that he was gay.

    It will never stop until some sort of summary justice can be effected, possibly in .45 caliber.

    Sgt Major, US Army (Arm Chair Division, stationary bicycle patrol leader)
    VMFW (Veteran of many foreign wars)DMD (drinker of many drinks)
    (CFMMM) Chestfull of many meaningless medals. ad nauseum.

    September 27, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
  10. daryl

    I don't care if only 1 priest is guilty, he should be prosecuted, not hush hush and moved around!

    September 27, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
  11. Edward Crellin

    I assure you that Pope JP and Pope Rat knew every excruciating detai of every molestation case that occured regardless of time and place. To think otherwise is stupid.

    September 27, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  12. John Phillips

    I have an employment law blog and have used Pope Benedict's situation as a way to learn employment and leadership lessons. This is my latest post on the subject:


    September 27, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  13. Lost Sheep

    Please do not give up your faith bacause of these sick men.......Only stop giving your Sunday money contribution....this way you will not be helping pay to protect all these criminals.

    September 27, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  14. Lost Sheep

    What a lame excused to say they could not defrocked Father Murphy…..But how easy they were able to excommunicate an entire community of elderly nuns in Hot Springs, Arkansas. They are the leaders of the Catholic Church and the makers of the laws….They can always change their own cannon law or just overlooked them as they do while they cover up for their criminal acts. SHAME ON THEM….They preach good morals and expect every Catholic to follow what they themselves violate….They called themselves the “shepherds of the flock” and “the guardians of the faith”….But they have become the worse wolves and destroyers of the faith.

    September 27, 2010 at 11:18 am |
    • don corpier

      lost sheep-i could not agree more

      October 2, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  15. ex-catholic

    I used to be a catholic for many years and I left that church NOT for the people there but because of my search for the TRUE. There are many good people in the catholic church as well as bad people. But that is true for mostly all the religions I know. Child molesters are not only priests, they are pastors as well and not only "religious" people but it could be anybody. We should not allow these monsters of society (child molesters)whoever they are to be free. We all need to stop them no matter what religion or possition they have. But we have to open our eyes and not just blame a religion. Let's put religion aside when dealing with these cases. As I said before there are good catholics and I bet good priests out there who do not deserve to be compared to these monsters. Let's not generalize. Jesus I love you and I hope that you come back for us soon. This world need you. I need you.

    September 27, 2010 at 11:02 am |
  16. Tom Sutton

    To all those Catholics (I'm one myself) trying to defend Pope Benedict...remember this...yes, it is true he was bound by Canon Law, however, he could have gone to Pope John Paull II at ANY TIME and request the removal of the cleric. The Pope, according to Canon Law, has complete, unlimited and immediate authority over the Church.

    Having said that...if CNN really cares about the issue why only focus on the Catholic Church? 99.9% of the abuse of minors takes place outside the Church. Where is the one hour story on that?

    September 27, 2010 at 10:00 am |
    • daryl

      Sounds like The world order.

      October 9, 2010 at 9:43 am |
  17. cassie

    I did post a comment and it is gone. Was that because it was critical of CNN? Well, here it is again. It is time you stopped printing this "news" item as it has been more than adequately addressed by everyone who knows how to type. On to something else, CNN.

    September 27, 2010 at 9:46 am |
  18. cassie

    Speaking just for me, this story is running way too long. What is CNN's motivation here? We all know about it . We have all expressed our opinions. To keep it in the news is detrimental to any healing the victims might have been achieving. It's becoming nothing more than an attempt to provoke. By the way, I"m glad you (CNN) don't pretend to be "fair and balanced" like some news agencies.

    September 27, 2010 at 9:34 am |
  19. Jerry

    I was reasied Catholic, mostly in the pre Vatican II years. Funny that they "couldn't" do anyting about Campbell. They don't seem to have that problem when a clergy member does something they don't like. If the Cathoic Church wants to defrock a priest or silence a person, they'll do it. If you believe otherwise, I have some land to sell you in Florida. "Faith" and "Religion" are two very different things.

    September 27, 2010 at 9:31 am |
  20. AKH;

    "GET OUT OF HER, MY PEOPLE, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues. For her sins have massed together clear up to heaven, and God has called her acts of injustice to mind. Render to her even as she herself rendered, and do to her twice as much, yes, twice the number of the things she did; in the cup in which she put a mixture put twice as much of the mixture for her. To the extent that she glorified herself and lived in shameless luxury, to that extent give her torment and mourning. For in her heart she keeps saying, 'I sit a queen, and I am no widow, and I shall never see mourning.' That is why in one day her plagues will come, death and mourning and famine, and she will be completely burned with fire, because Jehovah God, who judged her, is strong." Rev 18:4-8

    September 27, 2010 at 9:30 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.