Special Report: Devil in Rome premieres Monday, Aug. 22 at 8 PM ET
Editor's Note: This series of stories contains graphic descriptions of sexual abuse of minors and adults that readers might find disturbing. This material is not intended for children. If you or someone you know was sexually abused, contact local law enforcement for help.
"We are in schism." Father John A. Hardon, S.J., minced no words when summing up the situation between Rome and the Catholic Church in the United States in the late 1990s. Few understood the inner machinations of the Holy See better than Hardon, a highly respected theologian and author of dozens of books on the Catholic Faith.
After unsuccessfully lobbying the curia of Pope St. John Paul II to remove Illinois Bp. Daniel L. Ryan for sexual misconduct, Fr. Hardon told associates the pope felt powerless to force reform on the American bishops. "The Holy Father wants to prevent a de facto break — a formal, explicit schism — with Rome," he said. Hardon echoed the sentiments of his Vatican superior, Cdl. Édouard Gagnon, who nine years earlier privately lamented that the American bishops "will not obey the Holy Father" when he seeks to intervene in U.S. Church matters.1
Father Hardon's efforts and reaction are described in a nearly 570-page investigative report compiled over eight years by The Roman Catholic Faithful Inc. (RCF), a nonprofit watchdog group based in Petersburg, Ill. The document was filed with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Office for Child and Youth Protection. It describes widespread homosexual misconduct and corruption by a sitting U.S. bishop and the years-long effort to remove him from office. This all happened years before the sex-abuse crisis blew up in the Church in 2002 — and was a harbinger of the $3.65 billion that the Catholic Church would pay out in settlements, support and attorney fees as a result of priestly sexual abuse in the United States.2
Having failed to get action from the U.S. papal pro-nuncio and the curia at the Vatican, RCF decided the best course of action to remove Bp. Ryan was more publicity. The group mailed 30,000 postcards detailing allegations against Ryan. On one side of the cards was a photograph of two protesters holding a banner outside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The banner read: "A Disgrace to the Catholic Church! Bishop Daniel L. Ryan of Springfield, IL ... Soliciting Sex from Priests! ... Paying Teenage Boys for Sex!" The reverse side said Chicago Cdl. Francis George and the Vatican knew about Ryan's homosexual activity but did nothing to remove him.
U.S. Postal Inspector Terrence L. Cullivan sent Brady a letter threatening criminal prosecution for the postcard mailing. He cited Title 18 of the U.S. Code that prohibited mailing communications that contain a threat to injure the reputation of another person or accuse the person of a crime. The next day, RCF attorney James Bendell filed a grievance against Cullivan with Attorney General Janet Reno. He said the postcard cannot fall under the U.S. Code prohibitions because its contents are true. He called the postal inspector's letter a "frivolous threat of criminal prosecution." Instead of holding back on mailings, RCF sent the postcard to every member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. No action was ever taken by the U.S. Postal Service against Brady or RCF.
By October 1999, the Vatican had finally seen and heard enough of Bp. Ryan's nefarious assignations. On Oct. 19, the Holy See announced Ryan's resignation and the appointment of his successor, Msgr. George J. Lucas, a seminary rector and former vicar general from the archdiocese of St. Louis. The dual announcement was carried in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.
Bishop Ryan positioned the move as his idea, prompted by a desire to withdraw from being "where the buck stops." He said Pope John Paul II "has done me a great service by agreeing to my wish."3 Since Bp. Ryan had previously scheduled mandatory meetings with his priests for November, the explanation that he "retired" rang hollow. He was still some six years shy of the mandatory retirement age for bishops. Lucas only found out about his appointment a few days before the Vatican announcement.
Bishop Ryan insisted the timing had nothing to do with the three-year campaign seeking his ousting. He became the third bishop to resign over the previous year after being accused of homosexual misconduct with minors and priests. His departure likely had more than a little to do with a lawsuit filed 10 days later accusing him of covering up the sexual abuse of an altar boy by the Rev. Alvin L. Campbell, 74, arguably one of America's worst serial pederast priests. Campbell was sentenced to 14 years in prison for sexually abusing altar boys while he was pastor at St. Maurice Catholic Church in Morrisonville, Ill.
The lawsuit, filed by attorney Frederic W. Nessler on behalf of former altar boy Matthew McCormick, alleged Bishop Ryan's homosexual activity created a lax atmosphere that tolerated sexual abuse of minors in the diocese. The suit included testimony from former prostitutes Frank Bergen and Danny Evans (see "Part One: the Figure Eight" and "Part Two: Floodgates Open"). The suit was later settled for $3 million, divided among 28 victims of priestly sexual abuse. McCormick said Bp. Ryan flew to Texas and tried to persuade him not to file the litigation.4
Bishop Ryan and his predecessor, Bp. Joseph A. McNicholas, were well aware of Fr. Campbell's long history as a predatory sex abuser, court records indicate.5 Police and prosecutors suspect Campbell sexually abused as many as 100 boys. Several months before Campbell was indicted on criminal charges, Bp. Ryan's chancery told state police it opposed his prosecution.6 Bishop Ryan denied being uncooperative with investigators, but "in the interest of fairness" would not divulge how long he had known of Campbell's sex-abuse track record. Campbell was paroled in 1992 and died in St. Louis in 2002.
Father Campbell's sexual predation started at age 18 when, as an assistant scout master, he had sexual contact with a 14-year-old boy at camp, according to court records. Campbell became "totally preoccupied with sexual activity with young boys between the ages of 14–16,” psychiatrist Dr. Philipp Bornstein wrote in a court-ordered evaluation in 1985. Campbell told Bornstein his pederasty began in 1962 at age 37, a decade after his ordination and just before he enlisted in the U.S. military. Prior to this time, he resisted his strong attraction to young boys, he told therapists.
Campbell "gradually became involved with a variety of boys," Bornstein wrote. While serving in Vietnam, he engaged in "sexual contact with Vietnamese children," one court document stated. He told a therapist he had sex with a 16-year-old Vietnamese boy at least once a week. Later, while stationed in Louisiana, he said he molested brothers, ages 13 and 15.7 While visiting New York's Times Square in 1967, he frequented smut shops and became addicted to pornography. That vice continued until his 1985 arrest. Child pornography accounted for 90 percent of the material he consumed.8
As a lieutenant colonel in 1977, he was issued a letter of reprimand from the U.S. Army for "engaging in indecent homosexual acts with a minor dependent under 16 years of age," wrote Brig. Gen. Joseph C. Racke.9 The general ripped Campbell for his "total lack of judgment, discretion and moral conviction." A 15-year-old church organist confessed to his parents he had sex with the priest. Despite leaving the Army due to sexual misconduct, Fr. Campbell said he was allowed to retire with full benefits in December 1977.
Father Campbell convinced Bp. McNicholas that his "problem" was under control and he was eager to begin pastoral work.10 In February 1978, he was assigned to the Church of St. Jude in Rochester, Ill. Within four months, he resigned and was placed on a "leave of absence for health," diocesan records show. At St. Jude, Fr. Campbell repeatedly molested and raped a 17-year-old boy who led a parish youth group, according to lawsuit settlement records. Campbell was suicidal at the time and sought mental-health treatment. McNicholas sent him to a psychologist and Campbell was admitted to the House of Affirmation — a treatment center for priests with psychological and psychosexual problems — for evaluation.11 According to the victim, he reported Campbell's touching and kissing (but not the anal rape) to a parish priest in Springfield in July 1978. Bishop McNicholas sent two priests to meet with the family. The priests told the boy's parents that Campbel's actions "were harmless and urged them all to keep quiet about the incidents because it could be embarrassing," lawsuit testimony revealed.12
After being reassigned to the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Assumption, Ill., in February 1979, Fr. Campbell had sex with teen boys "six or eight times" over an 18-month period.13 He photographed and videotaped the sexual abuse of at least one boy.14 He told a victim he would "get him" if he ever reported the abuse. That individual later said Fr. Campbell "killed the young man in me."15 At age 33, the victim said, "the nightmares and flashbacks became so unbearable, I loaded a pistol, pointed it at my temple ... and fired. The bullet ricocheted off my head. Did God allow me to live or did the devil thwart my suicide so I must continue to live in this Hell?"16
Another boy, then 12, said Fr. Campbell molested him after a trip to the movies, and again when he came to the priest for help with a Boy Scout project. The priest later attempted to sexually abuse him in the confessional.17 Ever since that time, the victim said, "I have felt worthless and grotesque." He and two other victims reported Campbell's abuse to two teachers at St. Mary's school, but no action was taken. Campbell was given leave of absence in December 1981 after a teenage girl accused him of fondling her breasts. He left Assumption in the middle of the night and never returned. Police investigating those allegations said diocesan officials refused to cooperate in the case.18
When Fr. Campbell arrived at St. Maurice in Morrisonville in 1982, he set up the rectory like a teen game room. Boys from the parish made it their daily hang-out, playing pool and ping-pong, watching movies and filling up on cookies and other snacks. Father Campbell often walked around the children in the nude. One boy told police he walked into Fr. Campbell's bedroom and saw the priest molesting a friend on the waterbed. Another boy reported seeing Fr. Campbell molesting two boys at once in the kitchen. A third boy told state police that after Fr. Campbell gave him a set of headphones as a gift, the priest told him, "now Fr. Campbell gets something in return."19
A group of parents who became suspicious of Fr. Campbell and all the activity at the rectory confronted him in March 1985. They told him they suspected he was sexually abusing their children and they wanted him to leave town. One parent asked him, "Do you want to do it the easy way or the hard way?" After a long pause, Campbell sighed and said, "I'll leave."20
State police said when they began investigating the case in 1985, the diocese refused to cooperate. "They would have liked for us to have just dropped it — they didn't want the publicity," said Commander Carroll Ray "CR" McGrew of the Illinois Division of Criminal Investigation. Eventually, the diocese relented and began helping police. Bishop Ryan took umbrage at McGrew's statement, which he said was "bordering on libelous." 21
Father Campbell was indicted by a grand jury in July 1985. He later pled guilty but mentally ill to charges he sexually abused seven altar boys between 1982 and March 1985. His crimes included anal rape, groping, and with one boy, lifting him by the waist over his head while performing oral sex. Another boy, who suffered days of rectal bleeding after he said he was raped by the priest, said Bp. Ryan told him in 1997 to keep quiet about the abuse.22
At Fr. Campbell's sentencing hearing in October 1985, Fourth Judicial Circuit Judge Joseph L. Fribley lambasted the diocese for enabling Campbell's abuse. "It is beyond my ability to comprehend the actions of your church in repeatedly placing you in positions to perpetrate the conduct that you have," Fribley said. The judge rejected any notion that Campbell be given probation instead of prison. "Many of these things will haunt that area long after you're gone from this earth," he said. "I don't think some of these people will ever be the same again. ... Your evil is going to live a long time after you're gone."23
After the criminal conviction, Bp. Ryan asked Fr. Campbell to voluntarily submit to laicization or a return to the lay state. He refused. Bishop Ryan wrote to Cdl. Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, who was then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in February 1989, seeking to have Campbell laicized. Cardinal Ratzinger refused, citing church law at the time, because Campbell would not go along with the discipline. With a canonical trial against him later underway in the diocese of Springfield, Campbell wrote to the Holy Father in October 1991 requesting laicization.24 That request was granted.
Media reports on the Campbell lawsuit included a bombshell revelation. From the Chicago Tribune: "Cardinal Francis George held an inquiry into similar allegations against [Bp.] Ryan this year and found no credible evidence of misconduct, a spokesman for George said Thursday."25 No credible evidence? Brady couldn't believe what he was reading. He fired off a letter to the editor stating that the quote in the article was "false and misleading" and contradicted conversations Brady had with Cdl. George.
"It is beyond belief that the cardinal would use his spokesman to lie in an apparent effort to save himself and his fellow bishops embarrassment," the letter said. "Cardinal George, if he continues to stand behind that statement, has committed a grave injustice to all who have suffered because of Bp. Ryan's misconduct." A spokesman for George wrote to Brady denying he used the words "no credible evidence." However, a writer for the Catholic newspaper Credo produced a direct quote from his interview with the spokesman that included those exact words. The spokesman, James Dwyer, gave this quote a week later to the Belleville News-Democrat: "We didn't see anything we needed to take action on."
Why was Cdl. George publicly so reticent? In January 1998, he agreed with Fr. Hardon that the Vatican hierarchy had long known of Bp. Ryan's homosexual behavior.26 Yet George told columnist Matt C. Abbott "there is no evidence of wrongdoing, other than Ryan's 'imprudent' association with certain individuals."27 That statement led to a war of words between Brady and the cardinal.
"Surely Mr. Abbott misunderstood your comments. To assume otherwise would suggest you are a liar who has some reason to protect a pervert bishop," Brady wrote in February 2001. "One wonders what Bp. Ryan must know that would cause other bishops to lie for him. Maybe we should take a closer look at others who protect the wolf." George wrote back that he did not consider the 1999 lawsuit filed against Bp. Ryan, or the sworn affidavits in that suit, to be proof of anything. He told Brady his letter contained "the kind of sarcasm often used by enemies of the Catholic Faith who hate bishops and priests."
The Bp. Ryan scorecard was plain ugly: five sexually abused priests, three underage teen male prostitutes, more than a dozen other male hookers, and one instance of masturbating in public. If Bp. Emeritus Ryan was an embarrassment to the Catholic Church, he was never treated like one. The Nov. 21, 1999 issue of the diocesan newspaper, the Catholic Times, called him a "valued shepherd" and a "precious resource for the Diocese of Springfield." It was hagiography at its finest.
Days after his abrupt resignation, the State Journal-Register lauded Bp. Ryan's leadership on education and ecumenism. The paper's only reference to his alleged misconduct was in saying he had been "dogged in recent years by picketers." The editorial then suggested the sexual-abuse allegations against Ryan could have been fabricated. The headline on the editorial: "A job well done by Bishop Ryan."28
Ryan was one of three bishops to serve as consecrators for the installation of Msgr. Lucas as bishop of the diocese Springfield. At the ceremony, Cdl. George praised Bp. Ryan for his service, prompting a standing ovation. In fall 2000, the bishop emeritus presided at a World Youth Day Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Ill. He presided at confirmation Masses for teens at St. Michael Catholic Church in Wheaton, Ill. In February 2002, he was the main presenter at a daylong retreat for priests in Carlinville, Ill. He served as a co-consecrator at the installation of James Fitzgerald as auxiliary bishop of the diocese of Joliet. Brady and volunteers from RCF stood outside of the Joliet cathedral that day with protest banners that read: "Bishop Daniel L. Ryan Had Sex with Teenage Boys & Priests."
Joliet Bp. Joseph L. Imesch, who helped put Ryan in the bishop's chair in Springfield, lashed out at Ryan's accusers. A Joliet parishioner who sent Imesch a postcard with details about the sexually harassed priests and male prostitutes got a tart reply. "I received the card you sent me and I am astonished that you would send me such trash, and even more, that you would believe it." Another parishioner who sent Imesch the same postcard received this rejoinder: "I believe calumny is still a sin."29
Brady summed up his evaluation of the situation:
I believe that a large number of our bishops appear to lack any sense of shame and seem determined to destroy the Church. All the half-truths, double talk and lame apologies spewing from their mouths can no longer be tolerated. The fruits of their actions have been laid bare. They have no credibility left and they don't even know it.
Bishop Ryan was forced to suspend all public ministry in September 2002, when Frank Thomas Anthony Sigretto alleged the bishop paid him for sex at the cathedral rectory in August 1984, just weeks after he turned 15. Sigretto said the bishop approached him as he walked near South Grand Avenue in Springfield and offered him a ride. He alleged Bp. Ryan took him to the cathedral rectory, where the bishop said he would pay him $50 to take off his clothes and accept a massage with baby oil. During the encounter, Sigretto said, he objected when Bp. Ryan touched his genitals and again when the bishop attempted to anally rape him, according to sworn lawsuit testimony.30 Sigretto passed a lie-detector test, according to attorney Nessler.
"He started touching my genitals and I flipped over so that he couldn't touch me there," Sigretto said. "When I did, he rubbed me down and he tried to put his thing in me." After Sigretto protested again, Ryan ceased his attempts to sodomize the boy. Ryan then took $50 from an ATM near the rectory and paid Sigretto. Ryan approached Sigretto one other time while the youth walked on Ninth Street, but Sigretto said he refused the offer of a ride.
Sigretto's allegations were forwarded to the Sangamon County state's attorney's office, but no prosecution took place due to expiration of the statute of limitations. Sigretto's testimony was added to the 1999 McCormick lawsuit filed against Bp. Ryan and the diocese of Springfield. His allegations were turned over to the clergy-abuse panel of a diocese in another state for investigation and then sent to Rome. No details were ever made public. "The Vatican covered it up," Brady said. "Cardinal [Francis] George admitted that to me."31
Bishop Lucas never reported any results from the Sigretto investigation. In mid-2018, however, the now-archbishop of Omaha revealed that the Vatican ordered secrecy after the Congregation for Bishops reprimanded Bp. Ryan and permanently barred him from ministry.32
"So I knew about it but the people of God didn't know about it," Lucas said, "So it appeared to everyone that nothing was happening. And because the bishop (Ryan) himself didn't have self-direction in the right way, the Church really suffered there and people rightly asked, 'Can't somebody do something about this?' They were looking at me saying, 'Why don't you do something?'"
Lucas said he took evidence of Bp. Ryan's "grave misconduct" to the papal nuncio in Washington, "and really got no effective response at all." The apostolic nuncio to the United States at the time was Abp. Pietro Sambi, who died in 2011. Lucas said he next took the case to the Congregation for Bishops.
"That was a painful episode in the life of that local church and in my own life," Abp. Lucas said. "I do think it's important for everybody in the church to know that bishops are accountable and to understand how we are, and for there to be a structure to communicate to God's people what's being done when something needs to be done, when a bishop needs to be disciplined, so that he doesn't simply just walk off the stage and disappear, but that there is a sense that there is some accountability."33
Next — Part Four: More Damage and Corruption
Previous — Part Two: Floodgates Open
Part Three: End Notes
1 "The Many Faces of Cardinal Bernardin," E. Michael Jones, Fidelity, South Bend, Ind., March 1990, Page 27.
2 According to U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops data, dioceses, eparchies and religious institutes in the United States paid out $3,650,472,047 between 2004 and 2018 for settlements, therapy and other support, and attorney fees related to the sex-abuse crisis.
3 "Pope Accepts Bishop's Resignation, Appoints St. Louisan as His Successor," The Associated Press, Journal Gazette, Mattoon, Ill., Oct. 20, 1999, Page 10.
4 "Ordained by God, Accused by Boys," Allison Hantschel, The Daily Southtown, Tinley Park, Ill., Aug. 11, 2002, copy included in Roman Catholic Faithful investigative report on Daniel L. Ryan.
5 Psychiatric Evaluation Report on Rev. Alvin L. Campbell, Philipp E. Bornstein, M.D., Aug. 8, 1985, Page 2.
6 "One Case Points to a Greater Tragedy," Joe Stephens, State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill., Jan. 7, 1986, Page 3.
7 "Early Encounters Set a Pattern," Joe Stephens, State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill., Jan. 5, 1986, Page 3.
9 "Letter of Reprimand," Brig. Gen. Joseph C. Racke, Department of the Army, Headquarters, 5th Signal Command, Office of the Commanding General; to Chaplain Lt. Col. Alvin Louis Campbell, U.S. Military Command Activity, Worms, Germany; Dec. 19, 1977.
10 Letter from Bp. Daniel L. Ryan to His Holiness Pope John Paul II, Springfield, Ill., Oct. 31, 1991, Page 1.
12 "Aggravating Factors," report on sexual abuse of (name redacted) at St. Jude Catholic Church, attorney Frederic W. Nessler, Page 3 of 6.
13 Stephens, State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill., Jan. 7, 1986, Page 3.
14 "Details of Abuse," case of victim (name redacted) at St. Mary Catholic Church, Assumption, Ill., as reported to attorney Frederic Nessler, Springfield, Ill.
15 "Impact of Abuse," part of report on abuse victim (name redacted), St. Mary Catholic Church, Assumption, Ill., attorney Frederic W. Nessler, Springfield, Ill.
16 "Personal Statement," abuse victim (name redacted), a former altar boy from St. Mary Catholic Church, Assumption, Ill., as reported to attorney Frederic W. Nessler, Springfield, Ill.
17 "Details of Abuse," report on sexual abuse of (name redacted), a fifth-grader at St. Mary Catholic School, Assumption, Ill., as reported to attorney Nessler, Page 3 of 6.
18 "Early Encounters Set a Pattern," State Journal-Register, Page 3.
22 Victim/witness statement of (redacted), youth group leader at St. Jude Catholic Church, Rochester, Ill., given to attorney Frederic W. Nessler, Springfield, Ill., Page 4 of 6.
23 "Priest Gets 14 Years for Sex Crimes," Charles Bosworth Jr., St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, Mo., Oct. 26, 1985, Page 7.
24 Letter from Fr. Alvin L. Campbell to His Holiness Pope John Paul II, Logan Correctional Center, Lincoln, Ill., Oct. 30, 1991.
25 "Suit Accuses Ex-Prelate of Shielding Abuse," Bradley Keoun, Chicago Tribune, Oct. 29, 1999, Section 2, Page 7.
26 Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, Roman Catholic Faithful Inc., Petersburg, Ill., Spring/Summer 2001 issue, Page 14.
27 Ibid, Page 29.
28 "A Job Well-Done by Bishop Ryan," State Journal-Register, Springfield, Ill., Oct. 24, 1999, Page 16.
29 Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, Roman Catholic Faithful Inc., Petersburg, Ill., Spring/Summer 2001 issue, Page 13.
30 Victim/witness statement from Frank T.A. Sigretto, given to attorney Frederic W. Nessler, Springfield, Ill.
31 E-mail from Stephen G. Brady to the author, Oct. 7, 2019.
32 "The Shepherd's Voice" audio podcast, archdiocese of Omaha, Episode 19: "Facing the Ugliness in the Church,"Abp. George J. Lucas and David Hazen, Omaha, Neb., Aug. 24, 2018.