Alleged victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy held a candlelight vigil of solidarity at the Vatican on Sunday. Demonstrators carried placards with messages that included: "Shame”, "Church Without Abuse," and “The pope protects pedophile priests."
In the first such gathering at the heart of the Catholic Church, victims of clerical sex abuse from around the world gathered Sunday night outside the Vatican to demand justice. But police blocked them from bringing their protest under the windows of Pope Benedict XVI.
Close to 100 sex abuse victims carrying torches were outnumbered by paramilitary police who cordoned off the main avenue leading to the Vatican. Only two protesters were allowed to approach Vatican soil and deposit sealed letters addressed to the pope from abuse victims.
At a rally staged just 500 yards from the Vatican, Gary Bergeron — co-founder of the group Survivors Voice — addressed the crowd.
"What we once had as children we can never get back," he said. "We stand here today to serve as reminders to the world that what was once taken from us should never be taken from another child again."
Bergeron also said the group called on the United Nations "to define and include the systemic sexual abuse of children under Article VII of its charter definitions of crimes against humanity."
Prompted by the worldwide explosion of sex abuse scandals, the event aimed to show victims they're not alone.
Bernie McDaid — who met with Benedict in Washington two years ago — said he had told the pope there was a cancer in the church. But, McDaid said, little has been done.
The demonstrators included a group of Italian men who were abused by priests at a Catholic institute for the deaf in Verona between the 1950s and 1980s. They made themselves heard with whistles and held placards with messages such as "Shame," "The pope protects pedophile priests," "Church without abuse," and "Pope on trial."
Margaret Kennedy, an abuse victim from Ireland, said she felt betrayed.
"I feel sad, because I was a happy Catholic," she said, "but I think the institution has become very corrupt, and I find that incredibly sad, because my faith means so much to me and I think they have not been good servants of the people."
Earlier, participants stood up one by one to tell of lives devastated by the abuse they suffered as children, of the guilt and shame and solitude they suffered in the belief that they were alone.
Gianni Bisoli, 62, a victim of abuse at the institute for the deaf in Verona, spoke with difficulty. But his message was clear.
"This is a worldwide problem," he said. "We want justice. We want these priests to be defrocked and kept away from children."
Shelly Winemiller, a 42-year-old mother from Wisconsin, said she was abused from age 4 to 14 by the family priest.
"It's time to stop the stonewalling and denial," she said. "The pope has got to understand he has to do something about this world crisis. It's like a tsunami over the world, and he has got to do something."