Hundreds of victims of abuse by priests travelled from around the world to gather outside the Vatican on Sunday in protest of the Catholic Church's handling of sex abuse scandals involving children.
AP - People from a dozen countries who were raped and molested by priests as children gathered Sunday in Rome for a candlelit march on the Vatican intended to let survivors know they’re not alone.
The procession will culminate when each victim places a stone they have brought from home in a pile - in the same way hikers leave piles of stones along mountain paths to show others that someone was there before.
Donning T-shirts that read “Enough!” in English, Italian and German, organizers are demanding the United Nations recognize the systematic sexual abuse of children as a crime against humanity.
At a briefing ahead of the march, victims one by one stood up to tell of how their lives had been destroyed by the abuse they suffered as children, with many recounting years of drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and other psychological problems and emotional problems.
“For 50 years I thought I was the only person in the entire world that had been abused by a Catholic priest,” said Sue Cox, 63, from Warwickshire, Britain. She clarified herself: “Raped by a Catholic priest, not abused, because what he did was rape me and rape is different.”
“It’s taken 50 years for me to find my voice. But now I’ve found it, I want to continue to speak on behalf of people who maybe aren’t able to speak or have not yet been able to face the fear and the guilt and shame that survivors feel.”
Organizers say they expect upward of 300 people from a dozen countries to turn out for the march, a grass roots initiative they hope to repeat in a year’s time. About 50 former students of a Catholic institute for the deaf in Verona, Italy, joined the protest. The Vatican refused to let them gather in St. Peter’s Square - as is standard practice - but the marchers will gather nearby and walk to the gates.
The event is being organized by two Boston men, Gary Bergeron and Bernie McDaid, who were abused by the same priest starting in the sixth grade. In 2003 they met with the Vatican No. 2 in Rome and five years later McDaid became the first victim to meet with Pope Benedict XVI during the pontiff’s trip to the United States.
Eight years after the U.S. scandal erupted in Boston, however, McDaid and Bergeron say the Vatican hasn’t taken sufficient responsibility, hasn’t reached out to victims or put in place universal prevention programs to ensure children are protected.
They formed a nonprofit group Survivor’s Voice as a way to bring together victims from around the world - a campaign that kicked into gear this year after the abuse scandal exploded anew on a global scale with revelations of thousands of victims in Europe and beyond, the bishops who covered up for pedophile priests and Vatican officials who turned a blind eye to the crimes.
Cox said she was raped in her bedroom when she was 13 by a priest who had been filling in for her parish priest and had been staying at her parents’ home. Her mother discovered what had happened immediately but did nothing and in fact told Cox to pray for the priest.
“I felt sacrificial,” she said. “I wanted to die.”
By 15 she was an alcoholic, by 17 she had entered into a violent marriage.
By 30 she was clean, and now at 63 is confronting what she calls the final piece of her recovery - “the hardest bit” - speaking out about her abuse.