STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And let's go next to Rome, where thousands of Roman Catholic clergy have gathered to mark the end of what the church is calling The Year of the Priest. The celebrations are overshadowed by a worldwide clerical sex abuse scandal. A number of Catholic activists are in Rome demanding radical changes now. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Welcoming priests from all over the world, the Vatican number two, Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, said revelations of hundreds of cases of clerical sex abuse show the need for spiritual renewal.
Cardinal TARCISIO BERTONE (Secretary of State, Vatican): (Through translator) The Holy Father and I have had to acknowledge the pain caused by the infidelities, some very serious, committed by some members of the clergy that have had a negative impact on the church's credibility. The pope has even spoken of a persecution, not from outside, but stemming from sins within the church.
POGGIOLI: Only 24 hours earlier, a group of American, German, Canadian and English women marched in St. Peter's Square and chanted their demands.
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WOMEN: Ordain Catholic women, ordain Catholic women.
POGGIOLI: They wore purple stoles, the symbol for women priests. Some even had Roman collars.
Unidentified Man (Policeman): (Italian spoken)
POGGIOLI: Their protest lasted about a minute before Vatican police made them leave. Earlier, the woman had denounced the Vatican for honoring priests while the clerical sex abuse scandal is raging.
Erin Saiz Hanna is the executive director of the U.S.-based Women's Ordination Conference.
Ms. ERIN SAIZ HANNA (Executive Director, Women's Ordination Conference): The Vatican is all too happy to turn a blind eye when men in its ranks destroy the lives of children and families, but jumps at the chance to excommunicate women who are doing good work and responding to injustice and the needs of their communities.
POGGIOLI: Under church doctrine, women who attempt to be ordained are automatically excommunicated.
Another group from America has also converged on Rome - members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Spokesman Peter Isely said survivors are expecting an apology by the pope to the world, and the announcement of moves to rectify crimes committed by priests against minors. He acknowledged that some victims are skeptical while others have high expectations.
Mr. PETER ISELY (Spokesman, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests): They expect that this pope, this week, is going to make a dramatic, historic announcement that's going to change the future of the Catholic Church forever.
POGGIOLI: Isely listed SNAP's demands that the pope immediately order all Vatican officials, cardinals, archbishops and bishops to turn over all criminal evidence and abuse files to local law enforcement, that Benedict give a full account of his actions and sex abuse cases while he was archbishop in Munich and later as the top doctrinal watchdog in the Vatican. And finally, that the canonization process of Pope John Paul II be halted until there is a full independent investigation of whether the late pope was involved in cover-ups of Catholic clergy.
For too long, the spokesman said, church officials pressured victims to remain silent.
Mr. ISELY: You know, these clerics and these priests that assaulted us may have stolen our bodies, but it's the bishops and the archbishops and the cardinals and the popes that stole our voice.
POGGIOLI: Isely said there are two Pope Benedicts - one who first dismissed the revelations as idle gossip.
Mr. ISELY: But then there's the other Pope Benedict, and this is the one that we're hopeful about. The one that said there is no forgiveness without justice.
POGGIOLI: Many Vatican watchers wonder what, if anything, Pope Benedict will say, in ceremonies later today and tomorrow, about the scandal that has reached the Vatican's doorstep. In his March pastoral letter to Irish faithful, the pope made a heartfelt apology for years of sex abuse of minors by Irish priests, and he has had several moving encounters with various victims.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.
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