Vatican seeks to be `ally' with victims on abuse

November 1, 2010

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican's top spokesman appealed to victims
of pedophile priests who demonstrated near the Vatican on Sunday (Oct.
31) to regard the Catholic Church as an "ally" in the struggle against
the sexual abuse of children.


Following a private meeting with the spokesman, however, protest
leaders expressed only frustration and disappointment.


Scores of sex abuse victims from as many as a dozen countries
gathered in Rome on Sunday evening to protest the Roman Catholic
Church's record on child protection and outreach to victims of pedophile
priests.


The event was billed as "Reformation Day" and scheduled for the
anniversary of the 1517 protest by Martin Luther that set off the
Protestant Reformation.


Barred by Vatican policy from demonstrating in St. Peter's Square,
the protestors assembled outside Castel Sant'Angelo about half a mile
away. Organizers claimed to have drawn well over 100 participants,
though some observers counted as few as 60.


The largest contingent was of former students from a school for the
deaf in Verona, Italy, who claimed to have been raped by a priest there
in the 1960s.


Participants wore t-shirts bearing the word "Enough!" in English,
German and Italian, and carried signs with slogans including "Shame" and
"Hands off children." Later, they lit candles and observed a minute of
silence for all survivors of sex abuse.


Shortly before the scheduled start of the rally, the Rev. Federico
Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, approached the group
intending to read a statement calling on them to "look at the church
ever more ... as an ally already active today in the pursuit of the most
noble goals of your endeavors."


When protestors greeted him with derisive shouts and whistles,
Lombardi left without reading the statement, but offered to meet with
representatives at his office across the street.


After speeches by Bernie McDaid and Gary Bergeron of the
Massachusetts-based group Survivor's Voice, the protestors attempted to
march to the Vatican itself but were stopped by police. McDaid was part
of the first group of sex abuse victims ever to meet privately with a
pope, during Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the U.S. in April 2008.


Bergeron and another protestor, Paula Leerschool of the Netherlands,
were permitted to proceed under police escort to the Apostolic Palace,
which houses the residence and office of Pope Benedict XVI, where they
left dozens of letters from sex abuse victims in various countries. They
then placed a few small stones at the base of the obelisk in St. Peter's
Square, as a symbolic trail marker for other sex abuse victims.


Bergeron, McDaid and six others, including victims and family
members, met with Lombardi in his office for about an hour after the
rally.


"He was basically honest enough to admit that he didn't know what to
do and didn't have the power to do anything," McDaid said. "We soon
realized we were getting nowhere."