An unauthorized demonstration was rewarded with an unofficial letter, as a small group of anti-clergy abuse protesters held a protest near the Vatican marking “Reformation Day.”
On Sunday, October 31, sixty or so protesters held a vigil near St. Peter’s Square which they called “Reformation Day.” Reformation Day is celebrated on the last day of every October as a Protestant religious holiday.
The protest was organized by a group called “Survivors Voice,” founded by Gary Bergeron and Bernie McDaid, two U.S. victims of clergy sexual abuse. McDaid met with Pope Benedict XVI during his 2008 visit to the United States, but later became a critic of what he said was the Pope’s lack of action on the subject.
The protesters had not been granted permission to enter St. Peter’s Square in keeping with Vatican security policy for all protests. Instead, they held their vigil close to the nearby Castel Sant’Angelo. According to reports some of the victims did enter the Piazza San Pietro and gave letters for Vatican officials to the Swiss Guard.
Several also met with Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican press office, who used the occasion to present a personal letter to the protesters.
In his conciliatory letter, Father Lombardi stressed the importance of listening to the stories and the needs of the victims of clergy sexual abuse, but he also asked them to consider the Church an ally in dealing with the scandal.
“I feel encouraged by the attitude of the Pope, made manifest many times, that is, to listen to the victims, and show the will to do everything necessary, so that the horrible crimes of sexual abuse may never happen again,” Father Lombardi wrote.
“I must say that, even though I do not share all of your declarations and positions, I find in many of these the elements on which one can develop a pledge, that will bring solidarity and consensus between us.”
Lombardi stressed “that the procedures of investigation and of intervention must be ever swifter and more effective, whether from the Church or from the civil authorities.” Child sexual abuse, he said, is “one of the great scourges of the modern world.”
“What the Church has learnt in these years – prompted also by you and by other groups – and the initiatives that she can take to purify herself and be a model of security for the young, must be of use to all. For this, I invite you to look at the Church ever more as a possible ally, or – according to me – as an ally already active today in the pursuit of the most noble goals of your endeavours.”