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. steve

    Interesting how much trauma these people go through up until the time they sue and get a large settlement, then they are fine and live productive lives. All scam artists. I could care less about any of them when they show their human greed.

    September 24, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
    • Charlie

      Do you also feel bad for them when they were having their genitals fondled by a man of God????

      September 24, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
    • glorybe1929

      What you say is important...As God Spoke, the World began... He also said "what you sow, you reap" Whether it be words, or money or hate or love.Keep your eyes and ears open!

      September 24, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
    • Alpha 1

      LOL I bet you go by the name Grinch at Christmas time don't ya. Try to have a good day!! TGIF

      September 24, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
    • sammy1974

      Gosh, what happened to you ? Clearly something which left you without a soul.

      September 24, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
  2. Alex

    Child molestation and abuse are unbelievable crimes . But I always wondor why our children and not encouraged and educated to come forward when they come across such situations. It is a pity that they wait years and decades to come forward. Parents and others responsible are also to blame. To those who take monetary compensation and still talk, shame on you. Work to eradicate this menace not to make money and have fame.

    September 24, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
    • John

      Alex, let me address your question. Having grown up in the 70's, when this abuse happened to me, it was not front page news. Also, growing up in a Baptist household where nothing unpleasant was ever discussed, was also a reason my family never knew what happened to me. As for taking monetary compensation, that money is to help repair the damage done, not hush money. I hope everyone that his has ever happened to shouts its from the rooftops! After they cash their hush money checks, of course!

      September 24, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
    • Vorpul


      Funny, you sound just like Peter, john, and a few other posters. If I could reach right through the internet, you would find yourself with mere seconds in which to live. Just remember this the next time you abuse a child. You cannot hide your crimes forever.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  3. daleo

    the catholic religion is a joke

    September 24, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
  4. Bernie

    Toto your color is showing. You must be an abuser yourself also to say what you said. Somebody, maybe a police should look you up to make sure you're not hurting anyone.

    September 24, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
  5. Bernie

    David J as John montioned above, this is not just a Caothilic problem. This also happens wih Baptist ministers. So how can allowing priests to be married solve this problem? It's easy and shollow to blame something that is different (celibacy in this case) because they are easy to spot even if they are not the cuase of the problem. Pedophiles will always be pedophiles no matter what job they do and they are menace to society and they should not be allowed to be free. Incarcerating these pedophiles will do them favor because then they will not be given a chance to harm innocent children. They should be locked up forever.

    September 24, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
    • Cover-up

      What really sickens me is when a group like New Tribes Mission ( fandaeagles.com) deliberately covers up what happened in order to protect the reputation of the "ministry". If you read the material on on the fandaeagles.com website, it's clear that missionary kids at boarding schools overseas were viewed as impediments to the ministry. Well, if you're an impediment and you get abused, apparently it is no big deal. To me, child abuse should be on par with murder.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
  6. adam

    more anti-Christian articles from CNN. We get it, you hate Christians.

    September 24, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
    • Ann

      We get it. You hate children.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
    • The True Savior

      @Ann. good one !

      September 24, 2010 at 2:03 pm |

      @ann i heard u like little christians girls

      September 24, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
    • Brian


      September 24, 2010 at 11:06 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Thanks for posting the above link. As I said somewhere else, my opinion was that CNN was way too pro-religion. Thanks for showing me that they are more neutral than I imagined. My opinion of Jack Cafferty in particular has improved significantly. Can't wait for the pope-a-dope special (8 & 11 PM ET Saturday and several times Sunday – PVR is all set!!)

      September 25, 2010 at 1:40 am |
  7. Glorifundel

    “Today, Canon law has a different scenario,” Scicluna said. “This thing would not happen under [today’s] Canon Law.”

    Todays Cannon law is we round up all of the people directly involved, found to be incompetent, complacent, or even worked towards covering up this sort of abuse and fire them out of a cannon.

    Just a suggestion.

    September 24, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  8. OMG

    One Question – why is the Pope still in his position – isn't this a crime to let this continue – I would deport him from my country!

    September 24, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
  9. BDO

    Evil exists in every organization made up of men regardless of belief system. The Catholic Church has begun and will continue reform to address the evil committed by some priests. The same evil engaged in by members of every religious segment. Reform within the Church created by Jesus with succession through Peter will never end. However, working for reform within the Church is the correct approach.

    There will never be a perfect Church but there is no reason for Christians to not try and build one true Church on earth. That Church began with Peter and is represented today by Benedict. While there will continue to be future evils present in the Catholic and other Churches, there will only be one Apostolic Church.

    September 24, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
    • Vorpul


      Your so-called Church is filled to overflowing with evil. The Pope floats on top and protects it from justice. Give it rest.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
    • BDO

      The Church I know feeds the poor, cares for the sick, and helps educate many. This is the evil I have first hand knowledge of.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
    • Vorpul


      If your Church is represented by one who is evil, then what does that make your Church? Why deny the truth? Too much fun protecting child abusers? You tolerate evil in your Church????? Then you are evil also.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  10. Over and Over....

    CNN never tires of bashing Catholics or the Pope...... But, they always carry a favorable story of their pope, President OBAMA .......

    September 24, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
    • Brian

      Maybe that is why they are last in the ratings and just fired their head of news in the US today.

      Couldn't happen to a nicer group of folks.

      September 24, 2010 at 11:05 pm |
    • Nick

      I hope you know alot of us agree with you! We live in a world these days where liberals have control of the media ouput and have more of a right to "criticize" and "utilize freedom of speech" against religion and yet when anyone talks against gays and abortion it's considered "hate". So they are smart and talk common sense and logical against Christianity and when the tables are turned, we talk "hate".... conveniently to push an agenda.... don't waste your breath, you'll keep getting that christianity is a joke, the pope is a pedophile, the church sucks, yada yada yada. waste of time and arguing against a liberal or any church hater is like arguing and trying to talk sense into a donkey

      September 25, 2010 at 12:40 am |
  11. rasta

    bible church jesus = All Big BS

    September 24, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  12. Mike Trujillo

    It's all about getting as much money out of the church as there lawyers can.......Move on cnn to some real news.

    September 24, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
    • Cover-up

      Or maybe it's about protecting one more innocent child. The innocent child is worth more than all the gold in the world.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
    • Brian

      Going over things that happened 40 or 50 years ago is all about hatred of the church and MONEY.

      You are right!

      September 24, 2010 at 11:04 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... I hope the Somali community wakes up soon, the Somali men are disgusting, well many of them are, specially the older ones that think marrying 10 year old is OK or raping one..

    September 24, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
    • Vorpul



      September 24, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
  14. rich

    i was abused as a child by my school teacher. in the 50's nobody would believe that a school teacher or a priest would have done this. it has taken 30 years that i have seeked help. this is something that i live with every day. my take is to kill those sob's

    September 24, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  15. toto

    Put the Pope in jail and insert a broom in his lower hole to make him talk

    September 24, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
  16. Bernie

    The writer, Brian Rokus should be more carefule about what he is writing about. He stated Cardinal Ratzinger refused to defrock the pedophile priest. I dont' think the correct word is "refuse". People should understand that 1 Cardinal can not just defrock a priest. That would be a very powerful postion. Defrocking a priest goes through a process and based on a set of rules which is the Canon law. At that time, the Canon law prohibits defrocking unless the priest consents. Because of this very situation that the Canon law was changed. I do believe that the Church always do what is good. I also believe that pedophile priests are the lowest form of creatures in this world and I believe their penalty should be twice if not a 100 times more than any other sinners.

    September 24, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
  17. thumper

    probly safe to say this has been going on for as long as the church has been around. I dont think they'll let a set back like this stop them.

    September 24, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
  18. David J

    The Catholic church REALLY needs to rethink having non-married individuals as priests. I believe that is the root of most of the pedophelia (sp?). They purposefully weed out every man who wants a family. Why? It does not make sense. They need to redefine the role of a priest, otherwise how are they ever going to get rid of the pedophile stereotype. It would be a very positive redefinition of the role, and would prove they acnowlegde the issue and have solutions. It would also maybe fix the shortage of priests, which is a big issue inside the Catholic church.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
    • Drew

      1 Timothy 4:1-3 (New King James Version) 1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, 3 forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.

      September 24, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
  19. John

    This is not only a Catholic problem. Having been molested at 8 by a Baptist Church camp counselor and again at 13 by a family "friend" I can tell you that it leaves you with many, many issues. I have put them all behind me, or so I would like to think. @Tom: The fault is NOT with the parents. My mother never knew. Anyone who has been molested understands the need to hide what has happened to you and you become an expert at it. It is shameful and embarrassing and the thought of it being discovered is terrifying because you never want to have to confront your abuser, at least not at the time. This needs to be front page news EVERY DAY until it is stopped.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
    • Cover-up


      September 24, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  20. Sasha

    It wasn't meant to be funny – it's just a sad reality.

    September 24, 2010 at 12:57 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.