At "Reformation" Vigil, "Shame" Meets "Solidarity"
Hours later, though, Italian police blocked the largest Roman gathering to date of survivors of clergy sex-abuse from entering St Peter's Square.
That said, while organizers of the "Reformation Day" vigil took pains in its run-up to stress that the effort was not intended as a protest, anger was visible among some members of the group -- before a heavy media contingent, signs were held aloft accusing Benedict XVI of "protect[ing] pedophile priests" and calling for the pontiff to be put on trial, and when the "Vatican spokesman," Jesuit Fr Federico Lombardi, walked from his office to meet the organizers and deliver a message, repeated cries of "Shame!" by a lone Italian protestor cut short his visit, according to wire reports.
Lombardi subsequently met with a delegation of the survivors in his office at Vatican Radio, and two members of the group were escorted into the Square, where they placed lit candles and several rocks to which each victim had signed their name.
Far fewer than the planners had expected, Italian reports estimated a turnout of 60 survivors, while the Associated Press numbered the crowd at about 100. Having come from a dozen countries, the Italian group was dominated by the deaf victims who came forward earlier this year, alleging abuse by some two-dozen clerics and lay brothers at a school in Verona.
During his abbreviated stop at the event as the group gathered at Castel Sant'Angelo, Lombardi (above right, in jacket) delivered a letter to its Boston-based organizers. The papal portavoce likewise released his message to the National Catholic Reporter, his original text relayed in full below:
On the occasion of “Reformation Day”, organised by “Survivor’s Voice”Conspicuous by its absence from the Roman event was the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP), whose omnipresent, oft-confrontational response to the church's handling of the scandals has made it the most high-profile Stateside victims' group over the last decade.
By Fr. Lombardi
The windows of my office at Vatican Radio are just a few metres away, and therefore it seems fitting to me to listen, and to make a tangible sign of our attention, to your meeting.
This intervention of mine is not an official one, but because of my deep insertion and identification with the Catholic Church and the Holy See, I believe I can express the feelings shared by many regarding the object of your manifestation.
In this, 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.
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.
It is true that the Church must be very attentive so that the children and the young, who are entrusted to her educational activities, may grow in a completely secure environment.
Yesterday morning, a hundred thousand young people were present in these places for a great celebration of their faith and of their youthfulness, and they are but a small part of the youths who take part with trust and enthusiasm in the life of the Church community. We must absolutely ensure that their growth be healthy and serene, finding all the protection which is rightfully theirs. We all have a great responsibility with regards to the future of the youth of the world.
It is true that the procedures of investigation and of intervention must be ever swifter and more effective, whether from the Church or from the civil authorities, and that there must be a good collaboration between these two, in conformity to the laws and situations of the countries concerned.
I know, you think that the Church should do more, and in a quicker way. From my point of view – even though one may and should always do more – I am convinced that the Church has done, and is doing a lot. Not only the Pope, with his words and example, but many Church communities in various parts of the world have done and are doing a lot, by way of listening to the victims as well as in the matter of prevention and formation.
Personally, I am in contact with many persons who work in this field in many countries, and I am convinced that they are doing a lot. Of course, we must continue to do more. And your cry today is an encouragement to do more. But a large part of the Church is already on the good path. The major part of the crimes belongs to times bygone. Today’s reality and that of tomorrow are more beckoning. Let us help one another to journey together in the right direction.
But the more important thing that I wanted to say to you is the following, and I feel encouraged to say it, because it seems to me that you also are aware of it.
The scourge of sexual abuses, especially against minors, but also in a general way, is one of the great scourges of today’s world. It involves and touches the Catholic Church, but we know very well that what has happened in the Church is but a small part of what has happened, and continues to happen in the world at large. The Church must first free herself of this evil, and give a good example in the fight against the abuses within her midst, but afterwards, we must all fight against this scourge, knowing that it is an immense one in today’s world, a scourge which increases the more easily when it remains hidden; and many are indeed very happy that all the attention is focussed on the Church, and not on them, for this allows them to carry on undisturbed.
This fight must be fought by us together, uniting our forces against the spread of this scourge, which uses new means and ways to reach out today, helped in this by internet and the new forms of communication, by the crisis hitting families, by sexual tourism and traffic which exploit the poverty of the people in various continents.
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.
That's not to say SNAP went completely silent this Halloween, however... the group just focused its sights on a new target: Michael Jackson.
For the record, the late King of Pop was raised a Jehovah's Witness, and no evidence of his ordination to anything exists.
PHOTOS: AP(1,2); Reuters(3)