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. itsjustme


    How about JAIL TIME for these pervs??????

    September 24, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
    • Peter

      How about actually reading the article????? He did go to jail. But I guess Ratzinger should have served as asst. DA in the trial, too, huh?

      September 24, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
  2. egor687

    Sure, all these men are now making it public just so they too can get in on a lawsuit.
    What a farce. I was involved with many priests in my church, being involved in Boy Scouts as Scoutmaster, never had an incident.
    Sure, now your going to hit on the Boy Scouts.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
    • Faithfully Independent

      OK.. I know you're waiting, just dyin for it........ Only Scoutmasters hit on the BoyScouts....

      September 24, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  3. Faithfully Independent

    forget for a minute that this is the Catholic Church we're talking about. If an obscure religion was proven to have deep seated and significant issues on child molestation. Would mainstream Americas rally in the streets to shut it down? Woudl the leader of that "church" 1. Stay in Power, 2. Stay out of Jail, 3. Get to continue to make decisions of the fate of new cases? 2000 years does not mean he get's a hall pass. Arrest every bishop and american cardinal that let this tragedy occur. They're criminals. If the church wants them back after jail time so beit. If the pope comes to the US he's fair game too.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
    • egor687

      Another athiest talking with no proof.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
  4. SteveB

    Again, the media lies to the public in the way the story is presented. It was the BISHOP who was responsible. The BISHOP can, at any time, for any reason, remove a priest's faculties to confect the sacraments and perform in the ministry of his priesthood. At any time, for any reason. This is the BISHOP's call, first and foremost. The term "defrocking" is not a Church term. The Vatican can "laicize" a priest, but ALL that does is release him from his vows of celibacy, i.e., he can marry if he wants. How does THAT protect any children? It doesn't. The BISHOP, removing the priest's faculties, however, might. At least when the individual abuses children, it will be outside of the Church. Most abuse happens in homes and schools, but you won't hear that reported by the hypocritical, anti-Catholic media.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  5. Jules

    Read the bible. God does not condone pedopholes and none of these priests will be in the Kingdon of Heaven. Their sins are an abonimation. God does not want others to condone this behavior and would want us to speak up against it. We must protect our children and watch then carefully.
    Penance is between God and the sinner and you shoud not judge.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
    • May

      Those in highest authority will pay the higher price, as they had more knowledge.
      Thankfully for most of us, we have not only a Loving, but also a very Merciful God, one who greets us with open arms, if but we truly repent for the wrong we have done.
      With that, none of us can judge another, as we do not know the remorse one may feel. Further, most of us have a hard time keeping track of our little lives, let alone the lives of many others, all over the world. Recall that while these things were happening, everyone was presumed innocent, until proven guilty.
      Easy for us to shake our fingers at other now. Where were we then? Most of us took a very hands off approach, preferring to walk away........... shame, shame, shame on us !

      September 24, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
    • Vorpul


      Yes, shame on you. Repentance does not mean that you will escape your crimes if people like me have anything to say about it.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
    • Doubtfull

      Where was God when these things are happening? If God cannot protect the children, who will?
      Where is His army of angels? Is He too busy to do menial things? Like justice for the children?
      Does He exist? It, He does, does He care? Or, religion is just a sham conceived by evil men, for power
      and wealth.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  6. Cover-up

    Nothing is more evil than monsters preying on little children under the guise of doing "God's work".

    September 24, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  7. FederalistJohn

    You liberals have no idea what is going on do you? The pope could not have reversed this decision as it is CANON LAW that you cannot defrock a priest without his permission. You think the pope promotes pedofiles?? Just as Don't ask don't tell is a law that restricts gays from the military. Obama does not like the law, but he cannot strike it down because he THINKS it is wrong. The church IS a government and it too has laws which are difficult to change. As mentioned in the story, canon laws have changed. The church is the largest private organization in the world (to the point it has its own country), of course there will be quacks trying to take advantage of its power. Don't blame this on the church blame it on the pedofiles (who are not actual priests but using the guise of the priest to take advantage of children). The brothers and sisters who make the church part of their life are GOOD people. They do not want this. Also, for all the liberals and anti-catholics out there, you should read the story of Dr. Faustus, it applys to you too. 🙂

    September 24, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
    • Vorpul

      The changes in Canon Law are superficial and do nothing to stop what has been going on for centuries.

      And how can you say the Pope is not allowed to do something? He is the Pope of his religion. He could fix these things if he really wanted to, or he could open the private records of the Church to legal authorities, but HE WILL NOT.

      You are attempting to deflect the discussion from the truth, and I, for one, am not having any of that nonsense. For this crime, I condemn you personally "FederalistJohn" and invite you onward to the hell you deserve.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
  8. Cover-up


    September 24, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  9. Bill in Florida

    I think they should rename him Pope Hush Hush.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  10. Jesus

    It may take time but please talk, blog, and call RAISE YOUR VOICE chip away at the cath o lick church. Their numbers are down and in time will be broken. PURE EVIL!!!

    September 24, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  11. JamesNM

    Unbelievable that the current pope signed a letter stating that he couldn't defrock this priest without the priests consent after he molested little kids. Furthermore the pope obviously lied to the entire world when he recently stated in England that he was
    "shocked" by the widespread priest molestation rampant in the Catholic Church.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
  12. Cover-up

    "If only they were married, they would stop abusing the kids." Wrong.
    See fandaeagles.com for the terrifying experiences of missionary kids at New Tribes Mission boarding schools around the world.
    Click on "Forums" to read their stories first-hand.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
  13. nherent

    I find it abhorrent that people say such disgraceful things about the Catholic Church. Shame on you! None of you will ever be admitted to the Kingdom of Heaven. in orer to recieve forgiveness, penance is in order. Please do so now in order to save your souls, and only then God will have mercy.

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


      Are you saying that God enjoys seeing priests abuse children? Did God give them the authority to do evil in his name?
      Shake your finger at the Pope. See the evil that has been done and condemn it for once in your sorry life.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
    • Marilyn

      I am Catholic and I abhor the behavior of priests who have molested children. I also abhor the fact that the present pope was more interested in "protecting" the church than he was in protecting the children. I think there are many things within the church that need to be addressed – and changed. And I think Jesus must have shed tears when the children were ignored in favor of the priests.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
    • Doubtfull

      Again, where was He when injustice to the children were being perpretrated? Is He too busy to send His army of angels to stop the crime? Do He exist? If He does, do He cares? Or, have He abandoned us? Would you honor an earthly father who abadons his an earthly child? Or, religion is an invention of evil men for influence, power and wealth?

      September 24, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
    • Mark

      Your comment is absolutely laughable! You wake up one morning to find that you've been following a religion that has been taken over by Satan himself and you think others should do penance for recognizing the evil in the Catholic church. Obviously, the Catholic church now enjoys the following of only the feeble minded and those who refuse to remove their blindfolds (child molesters, too, of course). Catholics! Take heed. Continue to follow Satan wrapped within the folds of the Catholic church and burn in hades forever; God gave us minds to reason with and the true sin is when we refuse to recognize evil because such recognition is inconvenient.

      September 26, 2010 at 10:37 pm |
  14. Bill in Florida

    I have to admit that I never liked this Pope. From day one, he has impressed me as a man of pure dogma and that he is a traditionalist who would erase the progress made by his predecessors. Every time he's in the news, his words and actions confirm my gut feeling about him. He almost blew up the cordial relations between Christians and Muslims and he hasn't done too well with the Jewish community either. He's also set back the progress the Catholic Church made with Protestants and probably the Orthodox Church by declaring that the Catholic Church is the only true church. All of that pails, however, in comparison to the problem of incest. The Cardinal Ratzinger knowingly covered up these crimes to protect the reputation of the Church. People, that is a crime. This man has no business being anyone's spiritual leader. Every edict, proclamation or commandment he issues is tainted. If the source is corrupt, it logically follows that the watershed, the streams, the rivers and the oceans will feel the impact of the pollution. I urge the Catholic Church to demand his removal and the installation of a progressive Pope who is not tainted by this scandal.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
    • Bill in Florida

      Oops! I didn't mean incest. I meant pedophelia.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
  15. Cover-up

    New Tribes Mission
    boarding schools
    child abuse
    click on "Forums"

    September 24, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  16. Mr kuntz

    http://www.vaticanassassins.org SORRY IT WAS .ORG NOT .COM

    September 24, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
  17. Reality

    The topic is relevant and needs to be constantly reviewed since it goes directly to the heart of the larger issue i.e.

    For new members only:

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity by the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" will hopefully in a short period of time converge these religions into some simple rules of life e.g. Do no harm!!!

    No koran, bible, clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired. Ditto for houses and classes of "worthless worship" aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
    • Doubtfull


      September 24, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
  18. Mike

    The pope should should be hung. He is a monster.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
    • Peter

      Either you mean "hanged," or you're the biggest pervert of all.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
  19. Name*oscar

    @ everybody
    Fuc¥ Religion .

    And no I'm not an atheist

    September 24, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
  20. mom_7

    Children should never be harmed by any1 but the truth of this evil filled world is it happens everyday in may settings! The devil uses many vessels and takes many forms! The church has taken this matter seriously and has made changes to help prevent it from ever happening again. But the fact is people suck stores like this like blood sucking leaches because the catholic church is always held to a higher standard then any church! But no one wants to hear their stand on abortion, stem cell research or capital punishment! So what we as catholics do and support is only important when its bad! Hey cnn how about some coverage on some good new the church is doing for a change! Like all the money raised by catholic elementary school kids for hati last year! Just a thought!

    September 24, 2010 at 12:01 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.