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. Frankly speaking..

    Ah! where do i start ?

    @ all who say "dont blame the church for personal actions of the pope/priest/father".. Of what good is the church when those who lead it themselves couldn't benefit from it ??

    @ all who go "Religion is the opium of masses..blah blah blah.." .. Come up with a reason rather than the same old cliche which makes you the pinnacle of stupidity in any discussion. With so few and insignificant things you have control over you feel like you own this world, guess what not even one of those insignificant things will tag along with you when they throw you 6 foot under. You are fooling none but yourself.

    @ people who honestly wish to seek the pleasure of the one and only creator.. there is truth out there, seek god for help and make a sincere effort towards finding the way that will lead you to eternal bliss.. Just remeber God does not make mistakes, he is perfect and his perfection is glorified in everything he has created (including us).

    September 24, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
    • Vorpul

      @Frankly speaking

      Could you restart from the beginning and try to make your post more comprehensible? Or call yourself "Rambling" instead of "Frankly speaking"...it sure would help. Thanks.

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

      All made perfect sense to me.
      Maybe get your head out of your a$$ and read it again?
      Just a suggestion.

      September 24, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  2. Lifer

    The Church will see no Peace until it Rights its Wrongs,..The Church knows what those wrongs are and who is to blame..

    September 24, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
  3. Joe M

    Catholic priests are people just like everybody else. Its just that some of them, took on celibacy with
    either not understanding it or not being fully prepared for it.

    But what happened to these young men are clearly failures on the part of their parents. God entrusted parents,
    dads and mums to protect and care for their children, why was this child allowed to ride alone with this preist.

    Mathew 10:16 "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents,
    and harmless as doves."

    September 24, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
    • SDK

      Are you kidding?? The parents fault? It's the parent's fault if the kids tried to tell them and they wouldn't listen, but for a parent to have to worry about a kid with a preist 30, 40 or 50 years ago? Really? They might as well stay locked up in their houses...

      September 24, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
    • Doubtfull

      "Behold I will send my angels with sword to smite them and thrown to the eternal fire"
      Why, then, these people are still breathing. . . . or, just a fiction of evilmen's mind, in order to control,
      have power over them and amass earthly wealth... Pure fiction.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • Joe M

      SDK, why wasn't this a free country 30, 40, 50 years ago? Not kidding, parents aught to know.

      September 24, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  4. Mr kuntz

    http://www.vaticanassassins.com I dont agree with everything this website says, but it is very in keeping with what is not so obviously happening

    September 24, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
  5. fandaeagles.com


    September 24, 2010 at 11:59 am |
  6. Scott

    There is an easy way to to stop most of this. If you want to be a priest and dedicate your life to the Catholic church, you can start right here..... hop up onto the table and snip – snip – snip..... now you've sucessfully passed Priesthood 101.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:58 am |
  7. atheist


    September 24, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  8. Mark

    To C.Cantu...Knomeini is a persian God to the shia in Iran. It's a sect that deviated from Islam. I have studied Islam and it's history and I know that the majority of Muslims have nothing to do with the Khomeini sect. Khomeini pretty much think he is a prophet and not Muhammad so it's not Islam.. Now stop misleading people, this pedophilia is a phenomena tied with the catholic church.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:56 am |
    • Frankly speaking..

      I am a muslim and shias are the worst of the deviants from Islam.

      The first pillar of islam is that God is one (period) and Mohammed (pb uh) is the final messenger( period!) sent to mankind. There will be no prophets/messenger sent after him but the shias have taken their 12 imams as messengers and thus violated the very foundation the covenant with god is based upon.

      If I knew shia islam first, i would never become a muslim. Thank god for guiding me to the straight path, the path that all messengers took and the path that leads to eternal paradise for those who believe.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
    • Doubtfull

      There is only one God. God of Abraham. God of Mohammed. And, yet Muslims kill Christians, Chirstians kill Jews, Jews kill Muslims; and vice versa. All these killings, throughout history, all, in the name of God. Even in Ireland, Catholics killing Protestants, and vice versa. Even with Muslims, Shiites killing Sunnis and vice versa. Even with Jews, Orthodox against other Jews. All in the name of God. With all these killings, where was God. Or, He is just a myth, like Zeus the Greek God.
      Religion is concocted by corrupt and evil men for influence, power and wealth. Plain evil and deceitfull.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  9. Sick Of It

    I am sick of all these stories just singling out the Catholic Church becuase child abuse happens in every realigion and is always covered up by every religion. I know people want to attack the Catholic church because it is the oldest religion other then the Jewish religion. It is sad that every religion is not be treated equally. I am sure if you look and you don't have to look hard you will find just as many child abuse cases against every religion out there.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:56 am |
  10. tony

    I tried being a Catholic; born and raised Catholic to age 17. When I read of the abuse by priests I now know why I took another path from that religion. It has gotten to the point where everytime I see a priest I wonder what he might have done

    September 24, 2010 at 11:55 am |
    • Peter

      So you decided to leave "the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" because of your own personal prejudice? That sounds unwise.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
    • Vorpul

      I guess Peter is very wise about child abuse. I'm sure he has studied it verrrry closely....verrry closely....

      What do you say, Peter? Don't you hate it when I call you out? Frankly, I'm amazed that you have the gall to be doing what you are doing, to have done what you have done.
      Do you remember their names? Or just how good it felt? Comprehending your errors yet? Didn't think so...

      September 24, 2010 at 12:33 pm |
    • Norm

      Vorpul your moronic accusations at Peter have just as much validity as some person coming out 50 years later to claim they were abused as a child. Show us your proof or STFU.....k?

      September 24, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
    • Vorpul

      @Norm (a.k.a. "Peter")

      Poor Norm. Thinks no one will believe him because he lies so much. Know what? It's true. No one with any real brains is going to believe anything you say, "Norm".

      Hey child molester / defender of child molesters, guess what? There's a lot of people looking for you right now. When they find you maybe they'll give you a big hug and kiss. Or maybe not.
      When this blog becomes a court of law, I will bring whatever I can to the table to make sure that people like you (and "Peter") are convicted and executed whenever possible.
      But, hmm, it's just a blog. You lose. Your posts are so obvious that, if I was working for the FBI, you would be in some very serious trouble already, and all your neighbors would be getting a good idea of what you have been up to.

      So obvious. So, so foolish. That must be the "Norm".

      September 24, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
  11. GOPron

    it's interesting that you don't hear too many stories about episcopal priests or lutherans molesting children. I would think that it's because they are married, and pedophiles aren't drawn to their ranks. The catholic church's celibacy policy is, at least to my knowledge, fairly recent (12th century?), and is not firmly rooted in scripture. It's a change that should be made before one more child suffers.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:52 am |
    • Ann

      GOPron whether you are a celibate Priest or not has nothing to do with whether or not you are a pediphile. You can be married and be a pediphile. It just so happens that if you are a pediphile one of the best places to meet children, boys, alone is in the Catholic church. You can hide behind your robe and pretend that you are celibate and no one knows the difference, until, your dirty disgusting behavior comes to light. So, stop with the 'if only they would let Catholic Priests marry'-one has nothing to do with the other.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
    • Lifer

      The reason you don't hear of the other churches is because they are not covered up, and they don't have a Pope.. They are banned from the church usually in agreeance of the Parish..The local parish takes care of their problem

      September 24, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
    • daryl

      The 12th century also changed baptism to sprinkeling a baby instead of full immersion of a repented, knowing person.

      October 12, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
  12. jps

    The pope IS a real villian. He let it happen, he let it go on! I've never been a fan of the catholic church but today I can't imagine why anyone continues to support them.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:52 am |
  13. SDK

    Oh and another thing...I can pray directly to God...I don't need to go through his mother. I'm just sayin'

    September 24, 2010 at 11:52 am |
    • daryl


      October 5, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
  14. C. Cantu

    I wished the same exposure the media does to Catholic priests pedophiles they do it to Muslim clergy. It is prevalent, common
    and acceptable under Sharia Law child abuse among Muslim clerics. See:

    September 24, 2010 at 11:52 am |
    • Norm

      Oh just wait. The Vatican is under fire right now. These things take time and the media and the lefties are busy with this one. Your religion will be next. A few months ago it was the Mormons. One thing is for sure. You won't see anyone go after the Jews. You wanna know why???

      September 24, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • Yasser

      What Sharia law u read to reach this conclusion, please stop fishing for an crazy talk by a lunatic just to bring every body in the mud with you. face it, this issue is your baby only.

      September 27, 2010 at 12:56 am |
  15. BrankoB

    I believe CNN has an agenda on this issue. I'm sure this type abuse also occurs within other religious groups they are just not publicized as much. Don't take me wrong I am not defending the political wing of the vatican.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  16. Sad

    I'm a Catholic. I believe in zero tolerance. Zero means z-e-r-o.
    There needs to be no victims. None. Zero.
    What part of that is debatable?
    thank you for allowing me this post.

    September 24, 2010 at 11:50 am |
  17. EddyL

    Pope Ratzinger should be in jail. How can this liar be "shocked" by news about pedophile priests when he's know about it for decades>

    September 24, 2010 at 11:50 am |
  18. Mark

    Nothing new about this subject. I am 48 now and all I can say is that I ve been there too and seen the worst at the Catholic church....I don't want to talk about what happened in detail but my friend John also suffered like me and we tried to speak up in many occasions and nobody wanted to hear, then we ran away from the raping school. It is sad because we were young and unable to defend ourselves or I could have murdered someone and ended up in jail, but I moved on and I didn't forgive and will never forgive those who ...., my old friend John had to go to a mental hospital and God knows where he is now, I was stronger and I chose to ignore what happened will never go away from my mind. I don't think God ever intended for us to worship these pedophiles but that's what YOU all doing , really....you think the Pope is who talks to the father to forgive your sins and ask for blessings for you but that's exactly what God doesn't want you to do. When you are a human being and even better than your pedophile priest then God can hear straight from you because he hears and created us with the ability to speak and hear, then why do you need them ??? We are blaming the Muslims yet they are the only people on this planet that worship God directly..Yes they call god Allah but then the Catholics in Spain call God Dios....

    We need to bring them to justice and I can help speak up if needed ( I am sure those who abused me are already dead and will burn in hell eternally because God is just).

    September 24, 2010 at 11:50 am |
    • Norm

      Well for goodness sakes Mark....what are you waiting for???
      Jump on the bandwagon and make your free fortune. The time has come for all "victims" to come forward and claim the prize.
      Don't delay or you'll miss an oppertunity of a lifetime to "cash in". $$$$$$$$$$$$$
      Anyone else wnat to spin a yarn of abuse and horror? Don't be shy. The church has plenty of cash to go around for everyone.
      No PROOF needed. Just make your claim and climb on board....

      September 24, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
    • Vorpul


      It always amazes me when I consider that there are people like you who defend child molesters with such energy. I would guess that you are one yourself. It seems pretty obvious to me. Why go to all this trouble to defend child molesters if you are not one yourself?
      Tell us how much you like doing nasty things to children. I'm sure we'll all defend your right to say it...

      Now, some people would like to torture you to death very slowly for what you have done, but I don't think that's a good use of anyone's time. Simple execution is more healthy from a social point of view. What do you think about that, "Norm"?

      September 24, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  19. SDK

    I don't believe there is a single priest anywhere in the world that does not know that the pedophilia has gone on FOR YEARS!!I don't understand how the catholic church was able to make up it's own rules from the beginning, that have little to do with the bible, for example, no where does it say that if you don't attend church every Sunday that you will burn in hell...or better yet go to purgatory...there's no such thing as purgatory in the bible! I'm sure if I did the research, the Catholic Church was started by a bunch of single men with some twisted ideas about God. My husband was raised Roman Catholic and myself Southern Baptist (don't get me started on them and their SCARE tactics) and when we decided to get married, the catholic church wouldn't marry us because I had been married before and I needed to have that annulled...I had kids from that marriage...what would that make them...illegitimate? Ridiculous!! I heard with my own ears a very prominent NJ Bishop say that the rules were made 'by a bunch of old guys in Rome', who I'm sure have known all along...

    September 24, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  20. Reginaldo Brooks


    September 24, 2010 at 11:48 am |
    • daryl

      Sorry after they got caught. catholics just want the problem to go away. Pesonally, I hope it bankrupts the church of the 7 hills.

      October 8, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
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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.