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. John Phillips

    These priests should be defrocked, castrated, and then set to roam freely through the prisons.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  2. Cover-up

    Child abuse in Senegal and Brazil
    New Tribes Mission boarding schools

    September 24, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  3. T.O.

    This is why the Catholic church is anti-choice, more kids for the priests. I don't see how ANY Catholic can put money on the plate. It simply supports pedophiles.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
  4. Reality Check

    When Ratzinger was "elected" to head the church, don't you think that the conclave's ultimate mission was to expose his complicity? This issue has been festering within the Church for decades while he fabricated excuses not to prosecute these known pedophiles. What better way to arouse public scrutiny than to place him front-and-center?

    September 24, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
  5. John Phillips

    Not only should these vermin be defrocked, they should be castrated as well. Then left to roam freely throughout the prison.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  6. Sasha

    Growing up I used to hear this joke alot

    Q – How do you get a nun pregnant?
    A – Dress her up as an alter boy"

    Being catholic it saddens me that the abuse still goes on. The Pope should step down. It was his human right to protect the children rather than his Cardinal right to protect the pedophille priests. How long before we hear stories of abuse by the Pope himself?

    I stopped going to Church after hearing a priest say during his sermon "no matter what you should stay in the marriage". (I got out of a very abusive marriage)

    September 24, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
    • Im Done

      I laugh ..... so true

      September 24, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
  7. john Phillips

    Not only should the abusers be defrocked, they should be castrated.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
    • Cover-up

      Now we're talking English.
      I think the same should happen with abortion. If a woman has an abortion, the one who should pay is the man. He should be castrated. Once you make abortion a man's problem, it will be resolved much sooner.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
  8. john

    There is a lot more abuse going on in the homes than in any of the churches (not just the catholic) around the world. I went to an child abuse meeting put on at our school and the turn out was quite low. The man conducting the meeting said it was a pretty standard turn out. The low turn out is because people dont like hearing about what they are doing in their own homes to their own kids. But based on the statistics and information provided at the meeting most molesters will speak out against it so that means that a very large number of you people bashing the Catholic church are molesting your own children or your neighbors kids. Fact. More children are molested in any given year at home then have ever been molested by someone in the Catholic church. It is amazing that victims seem to never be able to speak about the abuse until there is a settlement involved. Then they say that they are not motivated by the money but they want to help other victims.....right!!!!!

    September 24, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
    • Vorpul


      nice try, mr. lawyer-man. Yes, let's all listen to you bleating about money....

      September 24, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
    • Brian

      Shhh these anti-Catholic bigots are in the middle of a pile on again!

      September 24, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
  9. Materialman

    "Another" reason Pope Benedict Arnold needs to step down.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  10. Mike

    You do know what the word vatican means don't you? It was reported by Irvin Baxter Jr. That a member of the church told him that it means "fortune tellers and sooth sayers." Now does this sound like the catholic church is of God to you ?

    September 24, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  11. Thomas

    It is blown out of proportions. Is Obama responsible for all the crimes in US history?
    To err is human , to cure is divine.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  12. foryouropinion

    This man is using his past experiences to help others. That is the very positive side of this story. Anyone involved in protecting an indecent, evil abuser should be held responsible. No one is above sinning – not even a Catholic priest.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  13. Samira

    I too was molested for years, I was 10 years old and those that molested me are free.. One of them was a grown men, he was over 40 believe, I never told me anyone . I am crying as I write this. It brings back horrible memories, my own mother doesn't know. I was 8 years old when it all started and it didn't stop until I was 11. At the time I knew it wasn't right but I had no one to help me, I didn't live with my mother at the time and where I come from (Somalia) people will not believe you if you told them you got molested, many would believe the older person rather the child so I kept quiet . It still haunts me, I am happily married with a a newborn baby, I ended up marrying an American man because after those horrible things that happened to me I dind't trust Somali men, until today if a girl is molested the community always blames the girl and says she wanted it, and even those that believe her will not seek help from the authorities, the men always walk free because they don't like to involve the cops or the law. I am sick and tired of hiding my wounds. I kinda blamed myself because I didn't tell them to stop. I thought it was OK but inside me I knew it was wrong. I was afraid because I had no family around me when it happened. I am gonna stop here before I run out of tears.. It makes me very sad to think of this.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
    • Cover-up

      There's nothing I can say to comfort you other than to encourage you to enjoy your life with your baby and husband. God has given you the courage to speak out. Your courage will help others speak out as well.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
    • foryouropinion

      Don't blame yourself anymore. It is over. Read Job 38 and don't cry again. Life is to enjoy and to live for Christ. There's so much happiness in serving him and enjoying his blessings without guilt.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
    • Anita

      hello Samira, I too am a victim, but have over come. If you would like someone to talk to, you can contact me. anitabeinganita at yahoo

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


      Do not contact anyone who knows you are a victim. This "Anita" could very well be another abuser seeking another victim.

      September 24, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
    • Vorpul is Satan

      Gee Vorpul...or should I call you Matt McCormick.
      You sure do follow the comments in here from beginning to end. Almost as if you have a vested ($) interest in the whole thing. :
      Where's your proof God hater???
      Leave the Pope alone. He didn't touch your little pee pee...

      September 25, 2010 at 9:23 am |
  14. Jerry

    I guess people are tired of these stories that happened years ago. Looks like CNN has a hidden agenda to destroy the integrity of the Catholic Church. Sorry. Too bad.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
    • Cover-up

      They should run this story and others like it every week.
      Child abuse is the most insidious of crimes.

      September 24, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
    • David J

      Integrity? What?

      September 24, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  15. Tom

    I have a unique take on it. I was raised Roman catholic and served as an alter boy during my early teen years. The RCC is so tied up with honoring and worshiping the so-called hierarchy and Magisterium that there is a mentality in both the laity and the Roman catholic clergy that the great Church can do no wrong – esp. the Bishops, cardinals, Vatican College of Cardinals, and the Pope can do no wrong. What is a grevious crime (pedophilia – molestation) to everyone else is needed recreation for impoverished and deprived priests. Papal infallibility that 600 years ago insisted the world is flat and those who thought our planet is spherical were horrible infidels and heretics and that mentality survives to this day in regards to the Vatican and the structure under the Vatican. The priest can do know wrong as long as it does not undermine Roman Catholic sensitivities – pedophilia is not one of those "sensitivities". Logically the Pope can do know wrong now and did no wrong during the days he covered up those pedophile activities.

    Here is my take on these acts. Some of the blame is with parents of these molested boys for not dectecting these problems and if they did detect their children as victims of pedophile priests they should have IMMEDIATELY gone to their police and district attorney. I do not care if a priest is or is not defrocked I just want justice. They should have immediately been arrested, tried, convicted, and put in jail for a long time. Then the defrocking or not defrocking becomed completely irrelevent.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
  16. Jaycee

    If the Pope has continued to allow these abuses to continue, he must be a pedophile, too!

    September 24, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  17. Cover-up

    The Catholic Church is only the tip of the iceberg. Women and children have been abused in every generation. Women and children today are abused with the "child support" charade. Women and children are always the first to be mutilated (Congo), the first to be terrorized. And spineless men sit around conference room tables discussing women as though they were slaves. Children are viewed as impediments to career and/or ministry. There is no true justice for women and children, even in this country. fandaeagles.com

    September 24, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  18. Jaycee

    I never heard this story either until I read about the deaf children yesterday. And I think it's fine if they continue to "rehash" these stories so people like me will hear about it, maybe not the 1st time or the 10th time, but the more people know, hopefully, fewer of these monsters will be able to continue their disgusting & destructive acts. They should all burn in hell, ESPECIALLY the ones who hide behind God.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  19. parka

    there is always lively banter on this subject for a reason, the Catholics always try to minimize it but the world is not going to let them sweep it under the rug anymore. The Vatican is its own sovereign nation and can do whatever they want, but they can't fool God. We all reap what we sow.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  20. 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 12:38 pm |
    • Cover-up

      Did the Catholic Church cover-up child abuse?

      September 24, 2010 at 12:46 pm |

      Your response and demeanor is exactly what allows this type of immorality to destroy the church. Is this what christ meant, to leave hehind is a large burearacy behind to murder the souls of our youth. Please think more like a soldier for christ than a bureaucrat

      September 27, 2010 at 2:55 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.