Victims of abuse to hold vigil in Rome

 

CLERICAL SEX abuse survivors from 12 countries, including Ireland, will gather in Rome tomorrow, close to the Vatican, for an unprecedented “Reformation Day” intended to highlight the issue of childhood sexual abuse not only in the Catholic Church but throughout society.

The brainchild of the US-based Survivors’ Voice group (survivorsvoice.org), run by Boston-based clerical sex abuse victims, Bernie McDaid and Gary Bergeron, the gathering is expected to be attended by victims and supporters from Australia, the USA, Canada, England, France, the Netherlands, Ireland and Italy. Mr McDaid was one of a number of survivors who met privately with Pope Benedict XVI in Washington two years ago.

The gathering, expected to feature modest numbers, will announce the opening of the “Year of The Survivor” before holding a candlelit vigil in front of Castel Sant’Angelo, near the Vatican, tomorrow evening.The organisers had hoped to hold the vigil in St Peter’s Square but were were told this would not be allowed. Vatican senior spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi said last night there was nothing unusual about this since no demonstrations are ever allowed in St Peter’s Square.

“This is about the sexual abuse of children and the men who abused them and the men who covered up that abuse . . . This is the first time that we’ve had survivors and their supporters from around the world get together in Rome for healing”, Mr Bergeron told reporters yesterday.

Mr McDaid suggested that tomorrow’s meeting is primarily about raising world awareness of the sex abuse issue. Survivors’ Voice wants to promote a petition calling on the United Nations to define child sexual abuse as a crime against humanity: “I met the pope, I don’t need to meet the pope again. We had reconciliation as far as I am concerned two years ago. This is about child sexual abuse, it’s about the world getting on board,” said Mr McDaid.

Among a seven-strong Irish contingent due to attend, the mood is much more clearly focused on the failings of the church. Margaret Kennedy, a victim of abuse by an Anglican priest, told The Irish Times.

“Rome is where we point the finger. Rome is at fault . . . An individual priest may have a disturbance or whatever but it was Rome that allowed them to continue. That makes survivors all the more angry, they cannot believe that a church with supposedly intelligent leadership would actually just cover it all up [clerical sex abuse] and lie. They [church figures] don’t seem to realise that they lie.”

Emmet Devlin said Pope Benedict must bear his share of the responsibility for the mishandling of the clerical sex abuse issue.