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  Diocese, Ex-Bishop Ryan Sued / Morrisonville Priest's Alleged Abuse of Boy in '80s at Center of Case

By Jason Piscia Staff Writer
State Journal-Register (Springfield, IL)
October 29, 1999

A lawsuit filed Thursday against the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, two former bishops and a former priest imprisoned as a pedophile involves allegations that an altar boy was molested 15 years ago in Christian County -- charges the now-30-year-old victim didn't pursue until last year.

The most sensational accusation in the suit, however, is that former Bishop Daniel Ryan failed to act against such sexual misdeeds while being involved in homosexual relationships of his own.

That charge is similar to allegations leveled by a local group of self-styled "orthodox" Catholics for at least the last three years. Ryan, who resigned last week as bishop of the Springfield Diocese, has consistently denied any sexual impropriety.

The accusations against the former priest, the Rev. Alvin Campbell, are not new, either.

Campbell, 74, was sentenced in 1985 to 14 years in prison after he pleaded guilty but mentally ill to charges of sexually abusing at least seven teenage boys while he was pastor at St. Maurice Church in Morrisonville.

The incidents occurred between 1982 and 1985.

Campbell served almost seven years of his sentence and was released in 1992. He now reportedly lives in Florida, although his exact residence could not be confirmed Thursday.

The lawsuit was filed by Matthew McCormick, who says he, too, had repeated sexual contact with Campbell as an altar boy during the time of the other incidents, when McCormick would have been about 13.

But it wasn't until June 1998 that McCormick, now 30 and living in Texas, realized that his enduring psychological problems were caused by the priest's actions, said his Springfield attorney, Frederic Nessler.

That realization -- legally termed "delayed discovery" -- means the normal two-year limit to file charges after an alleged crime begins after the realization, not after the crime, Nessler contended Thursday.

The lawsuit states that McCormick suffers from depression, suicidal thoughts and post-traumatic-stress disorder, requiring expensive medical and psychological treatment.

Nessler said his client is seeking damages, although he didn't give an exact amount except to say it was "in excess of $ 50,000."

Diocesan spokeswoman Kathie Sass said she could not comment on the lawsuit filed in Sangamon County Circuit Court because church officials hadn't reviewed it.

"Mostly what I know is from talking with you folks in the news media, so it would be inappropriate for me to make any kind of comment on the case," she said.

The suit further contends that Ryan, the late Bishop Joseph McNicholas and the diocese covered up Campbell's actions.

"All attempts to cover up and/or fail to report the sexual assaults of minors was the custom and practice of the diocese up and through the sexual assault of Matthew McCormick ..." the lawsuit reads.

Adding to that claim is the allegation that Ryan had "multiple homosexual relationships" that created an "atmosphere of tolerance to the sexual abuse of minors."

"Because of his proclivities and what he was doing, it created an atmosphere of making it seem that other things of this nature were OK," Nessler said.

The suit claims Ryan had relations with male prostitutes and other priests.

Nessler said three of them -- identified in the lawsuit only as "John Doe X, John Doe Y and Reverend Father John Doe Z" -- have provided statements to attorneys to back up the claims.

The Petersburg-based group, Roman Catholic Faithful, has circulated similar charges for several years. The group also objected to Ryan's administrative style and his interpretations of religious doctrines.

The charges against Ryan first surfaced publicly in 1997, when he denied any sexual impropriety in a column in the Catholic Times, the diocesan weekly newspaper.

Sass repeated that denial Thursday on behalf of Ryan, who was released from the hospital Wednesday afternoon after being admitted last week for bronchial pneumonia.

"He's still recovering and is still under the care of a physician," Sass

RCF's charges have been presented to the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese but apparently were dismissed.

Additionally, State Journal-Register reporters who interviewed a man claiming to have had sex with Ryan for money in the 1980s were unable to substantiate the story.

In January 1998, Roman Catholic Faithful held a press conference to announce it had located a former male prostitute who claimed to have had a sexual relationship with the former bishop. Journal-Register reporters interviewed the man that month at the Jacksonville Correctional Center, where he was incarcerated for burglary, but the newspaper found no way to confirm his allegations.

Steven Brady, who heads RCF, said Thursday he forwarded to Nessler information from his interviews with those who claimed to have had sexual contact with Ryan.

"I'm pretty sure those John Does are some individuals that we were in touch with," Brady said.

Previously, Nessler was the attorney for a group of former altar boys in a case against Monsignor Norman Goodman, a Catholic priest and former church pastor in Lincoln.

Earlier this year, the Diocese of Peoria settled out of court with the plaintiffs in that case.

However, Goodman did not participate in the settlement, and all claims against him were eventually either dismissed or withdrawn. Goodman claimed exoneration.

During Ryan's resignation announcement Oct. 19, he said his decision to step down as bishop of the 28-county diocese had nothing to do with the allegations made by Brady and others.

Instead, Ryan, 69, said he wanted to continue his religious work in a capacity where he wouldn't be "where the buck stops."

Ryan's successor, Monsignor George Lucas, 50, current rector of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, will be inaugurated as bishop in December.

 
 

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