Pennsylvania lawmaker speaks at abuse victim rally in Rome

Sara Oviedo speaks at a rally for abuse victims in Romes Piazza del Popolo Feb 23 2019 Credit Hannah Brockhaus CNA Sara Oviedo speaks at a rally for abuse victims in Rome's Piazza del Popolo Feb. 23, 2019. | Hannah Brockhaus/CNA.

Pennsylvania State Rep. Mark Rozzi spoke during a rally held by victim advocacy groups in Rome's city center Saturday, saying he is pushing for "zero-tolerance" for clerical abusers and cover up.

Rozzi (D-Berks) said informally in front of about three dozen victims Feb. 23 that he and other state legislators "have been working on legislation to try to give victims the opportunity to find that truth and justice."

"The reason I came here, and the reason our Pennsylvania delegation came here, is to stand with all these other victims and survivors," Rozzi said. The legislator has been the chief backer of Pennsylvania legislation aimed at making it easier for victims to file charges against their abusers.

"While the Vatican is telling us that they support victims, that they want victims to heal, they are undermining us in that same breath. And that is unacceptable!" he said in front of dozens gathered in Rome's well-known Piazza del Popolo.

Rozzi, 47, told CNA after his speech that he came to Rome during the Vatican's Feb. 21-24 abuse summit, "because of the Pennsylvania grand jury report." Released last August, the report claimed to have identified, over 70 years, more than 1,000 victims of 300 credibly accused priests in several Pennsylvania dioceses.

The legislator has said he was raped by a priest at age 13. The priest, Rev. Edward Graff, is alleged to have raped "scores of children," according to the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

"We want to see real policy actions. We want to make sure zero-tolerance means zero-tolerance, not just for predators but to remove bishops," the legislator said in comments to CNA. "Stop having the pope accept resignations [of bishops], patting them on the back and saying they did a good job."

Rozzi spoke during a brief appearance at what was called a "Global March for Zero Tolerance," organized by international victim advocacy network End Clergy Abuse (ECA).

ECA held events near the Vatican and in Rome's city center during the week of the Vatican summit on child protection, primarily calling for "zero-tolerance" against abusive clergy and bishops who have covered-up abuse.

About his expectations for the summit, Rozzi told journalists that when, as a politician, he hears "that we're having meetings to have another meeting, it means that we're kicking the can down the road."

"It's a step that they're having a conference, but unless there's any action, these are all words to us. Unless they actually implement real policy, these words are meaningless. We need to see what comes out of this," he said.

Rozzi also noted a dissatisfaction with Pope Francis' acceptance of the resignation last July from the College of Cardinals by the former cardinal and archbishop of Washington, Theodore McCarrick, arguing that the pope should have "removed" him instead of allowing him to resign.

"The pope has the power to remove these bishops, do it. If these bishops egregiously covered up sex abuse they need to be removed. That's the bottom line," Rozzi stated. "We will wait and see, but if the past is an example of the future, we expect nothing to happen."

"I just want to let you guys know that I stand with my brothers and sisters from across the world," Rizzo said in his speech. "We will never stop this fight until we bring [members of the Catholic clergy] down on their knees and they ask for forgiveness from us."

"If they want to be judged, so be it. They are the ones responsible for this mess and they are the ones that will have to clean up this mess!"

Other victims' groups were also present at the rally, including an Italian group from the "Antonio Provolo Institute for the Deaf." Several members from the institute group were dressed in costumes of priests' vestments, and one, dressed to represent a Catholic cardinal, stood silently holding a baby doll, exposing its undressed bottom half to cameras.

People gathered held signs with sayings such as, "Justice for clergy abuse survivors," "Too many pedophile clerics. Judge the Popes now," and "Secular justice for ALL."

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Many victims wore shirts or signs with photos of their abusers, their names and the age at which they were abused. Some of those at the rally held drums, and at one point, a group began chanting with the drums: "zero, zero, zero."

Some people at the rally handed out papers with comics depicting obscene scenes between children and men dressed in clerical attire. One showed a bishop standing against a wall with arms outstretched and the image of a prepubescent boy hanging on his back, as if crucified.

A few people from the Italian "Union of Atheists and Rational Agnostics" were also present to take part in the rally, whose speakers included Peter Isley, a founding member and spokesperson of ECA, and Sara Oviedo, former vice president of the United Nations' Committee on the Rights of the Child.

An Ecuadorian, Oviedo said "ECA demands full reparations for children, priests, nuns, and other people that have been abused by the Church," adding, "They have to guarantee that sexual abuse will not be committed by priests anymore or by any other members of the Church."

Started in August 2017, the mission of ECA, according to their website, "is to compel the Roman Catholic Church to end clergy abuse," which they define to include sexual, physical, spiritual, and psychological abuses or violence.

Among the goals listed on their website is to "hold accountable the Roman Catholic Church, and to demand an "end to the Church's structural mechanism that allows abuse."

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