About 60 victims of clerical sex abuse gathered in Rome Oct. 31 to mark what they called "Reformation Day."
The number was a far cry from the 50,000 that organizers had predicted back in April when the event was first announced.
Yet members of the group, Survivors’ Voice, many clad in white shirts with "Enough!" written across the chest, took part in a series of events throughout the afternoon and evening to raise awareness about the issue.
Bernie McDaid, co-founder of Survivor’s Voice, expressed hope before the event that "the world may finally be ready to act."
Their demonstration concluded with a candlelight procession to St. Peter's Square. Before the half-mile walk up the street from where they were gathered at the monument of Castel Sant'Angelo, they observed a minute of silence and inaugurated "The Year of the Survivor."
The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, came out to greet the group. But reaction to his appearance seemed to be met with mixed emotions.
Because the group was not given permission to carry out the protest in St. Peter's Square, when it came time for the procession, only two members were allowed by Italian authorities to proceed into the square. The two took with them 75-100 letters written by victims addressed to the Vatican and Pope Benedict XVI.
Escorted by agents from the Roman "Inspettorato" police service and accompanied by a horde of international media representatives, the two covered the distance to the entrance of St. Peter's Square to pass the sealed messages on.
They were met by authorities once again inside the square and settled for leaving the letters on the ground near a policeman who insisted on examining their passports. They had hoped to leave the letters at an entrance to the Pope's residence called the Bronze Door.
Gary Bergeron, the other co-founder of Survivors' Voice, called the event a chance for “all survivors to empower themselves by standing up."
"We're here today to say to the world, it's time we wake up and it's time we address a worldwide issue of childhood sexual abuse. … If it can happen to me in a Church, it can happen to your son and your daughter anywhere around the world," he said.
Survivors' Voice is petitioning the United Nations to declare “systematic sexual abuse against children” a "crime against humanity” – an initiative that critics say is aimed squarely against the Catholic Church.
It was the second time Bergeron has made the trip to St. Peter's in the name of abuse victims, the first coming in March of 2003 with his father and McDaid. They hoped to meet with Pope John Paul II himself, but were able to sit down instead with Roman Curia officials then, including Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano. They were said to be the first clerical abuse victims to meet with Vatican officials.
Reformation Day is celebrated by some Protestants to mark the day Martin Luther made his first protest against the Catholic Church in 1517.