News / Europe

Childhood Sex Abuse Victims to March on Vatican

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he is driven through the crowd in St. Peter's Square during a pep rally for Catholic youths, at the Vatican, 30 Oct 2010
Pope Benedict XVI waves as he is driven through the crowd in St. Peter's Square during a pep rally for Catholic youths, at the Vatican, 30 Oct 2010

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Sabina Castelfranco

Victims of childhood sexual abuse are gathering in Rome this weekend and will attempt to march on Saint Peter's Square in the Vatican to demand the Catholic Church do more to protect children and hold abusers accountable.

A few hundred people from a dozen countries are expected to take part in events organized in Rome to raise awareness and promote discussion of what they say is "the worldwide issue of childhood sexual abuse."

Bernie McDaid and Gary Bergeron, founders of Survivors Voice, say this is the first time that abuse survivors from around the world will come together for a day of healing and to demand greater accountability from the Vatican.

As children they were both abused by the same priest, Father Joseph Birmingham, in different cities in the Boston area. They were altar boys and say they were abused at school, in the church, in the basement of the rectory, in the car.

McDaid says that abuse can never be forgotten.

"It changed my whole life and the effects of that are shattering and they need to be dealt with by not only the individual, but by the world now and not be denied or covered-up," said McDaid.

On Sunday abuse survivors and supporters are gathering in Castel Sant'Angelo on the Tiber River. They plan to lead a candlelight march to the Vatican on what they have dubbed Reformation Day.

Gary Bergeron says the aim is also to help those who are suffering stand up and rid themselves of the guilt and shame associated with this problem.

"We're hopeful that the world can start to reform the way it addresses the issue of childhood sexual abuse," said Bergeron.  "It's a worldwide problem that needs to be addressed and it's time that we start speaking about it."

Italian police have denied abuse survivors authorization to enter Saint Peter's Square as a group. But they say they are planning to carry out their demonstration anyway. They say they do not fear detention.

McDaid was one of the first abuse victims to meet with Pope Benedict in Washington in 2008. Bergeron says they are also planning to launch a petition.

"We are asking the world to join us in petitioning the U.N. to include the systemic sexual abuse of children under article 7 of its childhood definitions of crimes against humanity," added Bergeron.

Organizers say they will declare the 12 months beginning Sunday, the Year of the Survivor. They want the Catholic Church to do more to protect children.

Pope Benedict has several times apologized for abuse committed by Catholic priests and met with victims during some of his foreign visits. The Vatican says tougher measures have been put in place to screen out seminarians that could become abusers.

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