Victims of clerical sex abuse end protest with symbolic Vatican march


THE FIRST multinational protest by clerical sex abuse victims in the Vatican ended with a symbolic candlelit march last night.

Carrying large candles, two survivors, Gary Bergeron and Paula Leerschool, walked the entire length of the Via Della Conciliazione, into St Peter’s Square and right up to the bronze door entrance to the Apostolic Palace.

“Part of what survivors asked was that we deliver letters from them, from all around the world, to the pope and that was our attempt to do that,” said Mr Bergeron.

“They wouldn’t let us go up to the bronze door but . . . somebody in security asked us for our passports.

“They took the letters from us but whether or not the pope receives them is up to the [security] men we handed them to,” said Mr Bergeron, one of the co-founders of Survivors’ Voice, the group which organised yesterday’s “Reformation Day” protest.

Approximately 60 to 70 victims from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Britain, Ireland, Italy and the UK gathered outside Castel Sant’Angelo, just 500m from the Vatican, last night for a peaceful meeting addressed by both Mr Bergeron and co-founder Bernie McDaid.

Calling paedophilia a “world problem”, Mr McDaid said the purpose of yesterday’s protest was to raise international awareness of the child sex abuse issue.

Saying that all the protesters were “part of history tonight”, Mr McDaid argued that the Catholic Church had failed to embrace the problem openly.

“Somewhere tonight in Africa, a missionary is having his way with a boy or a girl, taking their bodies for pleasure, robbing their souls and destroying the innocent spirit of that child,” he said.

“Nothing will be done to stop him and the act will go unnoticed like in the case of thousands of children before him . . ,” he continued. “Clerical sex abuse will continue wherever these predators roam; the abuse will go undetected as long as the Catholic hierarchy is allowed to cover up these crimes.

“People need to stand up and say ‘enough’, ‘basta’.

“It has taken the Catholic Church years to acknowledge that it has a paedophile problem,” he said.

“In no other institution has the sexual abuse of children been covered up on such a global level; the numbers of the victims are staggering and still growing all over the world.

“This is a perverted misuse of power, these men of the cloth continue to avoid their responsibility for the cover up [of clerical sex abuse] . . . This is not the church I was brought up in, to believe in. This church has lost its way. Our anger is justified.”

Mr McDaid also said that the Irish experience of clerical sex abuse, highlighted so vividly by the Ryan and Murphy reports, had prompted him and Mr Bergeron to organise yesterday’s protest.

Declaring the opening of the Year of the Survivor, Mr McDaid, a sex abuse victim who met with Pope Benedict XVI in Washington in 2008, promised that he “would be back”.

After the protest, papal spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi met Mr Bergeron and Mr McDaid at Vatican Radio headquarters.

Pope Benedict made no reference to the Reformation Day protest during his Angelus address yesterday.

Two Irish protesters, Margaret Kennedy and Brendan Butler, also also had their passports checked at the bronze door.