Gary Bergeron and Paola Leerschool, who had hoped to observe a moment of silence in St. Peter’s Square with a large group of sex abuse survivors and their supporters, ended up walking to the Vatican alone, leaving letters for Pope Benedict and a small pile of stones to show survivors they had been there.
“The journey of a survivor is one step at a time. This is one step,” said Bergeron, one of the numerous youngsters abused in the 1960s and 1970s by then-Father Joseph Birmingham.
Birmingham once served as a priest in the Boston Archdiocese and since has been laicized.
Even though Italian military police prevented the whole group of about 100 people – sex abuse survivors and their supporters – from walking together to St. Peter’s Square Oct. 31, Bergeron said the event “was very powerful for many of the survivors and, to me, that’s a success.”
Bernie McDaid, who also was abused by Birmingham, told the survivors, “My anger, your anger, our anger is justified.”
While the Church has enacted new norms for preventing and dealing with abuse, he said the fact that new revelations of abuse erupted again this year, shows that more must be done.
McDaid and Bergeron, founders of Survivors Voice, called on the United Nations to declare sex abuse a “crime against humanity.”
Bergeron and Leerschool went to the Bronze Doors, a Vatican entrance, where they left about 75 letters from sex abuse victims. In the square, Bergeron and Leerschool left a dozen stones at the foot of the obelisk as a sign to other survivors that they had been there and were in solidarity with them, they said.
Bergeron and McDaid and six others later met with Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.
Lombardi said, “We spoke for almost an hour. They told me their position and their concerns.”
Lombardi gave Bergeron a statement he had prepared as a sign that he and other Vatican officials were aware of the survivors’ presence.
“I know you think that the Church should do more, and in a quicker way,” Lombardi’s statement said. “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,” he said.