STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Victims of clerical sex abuse from across the world gathered outside the Vatican last night. It was the first such demonstration at the home of the Catholic Church. They attempted to protest outside the windows of Pope Benedict, but police blocked their way. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Close to a hundred sex abuse victims, carrying lit torches, were outnumbered by paramilitary police who cordoned off the main avenue leading to the Vatican.�Only two protestors were allowed to approach Vatican soil and deposit sealed letters from abuse victims addressed to the pope. At a rally staged just 500 yards from the Vatican, Gary Bergeron, co-founder of the group Survivors Voice, addressed the crowd.
Mr. GARY BERGERON (Survivors Voice): What we once had as children we can never get back. 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.
POGGIOLI: Bergeron also launched an appeal to the world.
Mr. BERGERON: We call today on the United Nations to define and include the systemic sexual abuse of children under Article 7 of its charter definitions of crimes against humanity.
POGGIOLI: 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, you have a cancer in the church. But, McDaid lamented, little has been done.
Mr. BERNIE MCDAID: Somewhere tonight in Africa, a missionary is having his way with a boy or a girl. He is taking their bodies for pleasure, robbing their souls and destroying the innocent spirit of that child, and nothing will be done to stop that perpetrator.
(Soundbite of whistle blowing)
POGGIOLI: The demonstrators included a group of 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, and pope on trial.
Margaret Kennedy, an abuse victim from Ireland, pointing to the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, said she felt betrayed.
Ms. MARGARET KENNEDY: I feel sad, because I was a happy Catholic. 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. All the bishops are doing the same thing, covering it up, so that must be policy.
POGGIOLI: 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 they were alone. 62-year-old Gianni Bisoli, a survivor of the Institute for the Deaf in Verona, spoke with difficulty, but his message was very clear.
Mr. GIANNI BISOLI: (Italian spoken)
POGGIOLI: 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, was abused from the age of four to 14 by the family priest.
Ms. SHELLY WINEMILLER: It's time to stop the stonewalling and denial. The pope has got to understand he has got to do something about this worldwide crisis. It's like a tsunami over the world, and he has to do something.
POGGIOLI: Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome.