Police block sex abuse survivors near Vatican

Nicole Winfiel
Associated Press

ROME — Italian paramilitary police blocked a boulevard leading to the Vatican to prevent a march in Rome on Sunday by survivors of clergy sex abuse from reaching St. Peter’s Square.

When Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi came to speak with organizers Sunday evening, a protester shouted “Shame, shame” in Italian, and Lombardi left, escorted by police.

He later told The AP by telephone that if organizers want to see him he would “gladly” receive them inside his office. Shortly after that, one of the organizers, Gary Bergeron, did meet briefly with Lombardi and the two agreed to meet Sunday night after the end of the protest.

The event, which aims to show survivors worldwide they are not alone – is being organized by Bergeron and another Boston man, Bernie McDaid, who were abused by the same priest starting in the sixth grade. Bergeron said he told Lombardi that the abuse survivors have been “waiting a lifetime to be able to stand up and speak out.”

Protesters held signs with slogans including “Hands off children.”

Late last week, march organizers said they were denied permission to hold the event on Vatican soil. It is standard Vatican practice to ban non-Vatican-sponsored events from the square.

Lombardi said he had come to greet the organizers but when he saw “it wasn’t going to be easy” he left.

Participants, who came from a dozen countries and said they were raped and molested by priests as children, flocked to Rome for the candlelit march.

At the culmination of the march, each victim planned to put a stone he or she had brought from home onto a pile – in the same way hikers leave piles of stones along mountain paths to show others that someone had been there before.

Wearing T-shirts that read “Enough!” in English, Italian and German, organizers demanded that the United Nations recognize the systematic sexual abuse of children as a crime against humanity.

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