ROME (Reuters) - Victims of abuse by Roman Catholic priests will try to march on the Vatican on Sunday despite the lack of a police permit, to demand the Church do more to protect children and hold abusers accountable.
Bernie McDaid and Gary Bergeron, founders of www.survivorsvoice.org, told a news conference on Friday they would start a petition drive to ask the United Nations to declare systemic paedophilia a crime against humanity.
"We are not crippled. We are injured people who are willing to talk about it now. The guilt and the shame is in the cover-up," said McDaid, who become one of the first abuse victims to meet with Pope Benedict in Washington in 2008.
Revelations about children who were sexually abused by priests over the past decades has rocked the church this year, particularly in Europe, the United States and Australia.
McDaid, 54 and Bergeron, 47, were abused by the same priest as children in different cities in the Boston area some seven years apart in the 1960s.
Both were altar boys and both said they were molested by a priest who was first denounced as an abuser in 1962 but was shifted from parish to parish instead of being defrocked.
They met as adults in 2002 when the Church sex abuse scandal first swept the United States, with its epicentre in Boston.
This year, a new chapter in the scandal came to light as victims in other countries, including Ireland, Austria, Italy and the pope's native Germany, came forward. Bishops in several European countries have resigned either because they were unmasked as abusers or had mishandled abuse cases.
Bergeron and McDaid will lead two days of activities in Rome along with victims of abuse from 12 countries, culminating on Sunday, which they have dubbed Reformation Day, the anniversary of the day in 1517 when Martin Luther began the Reformation.
After gathering in nearby Castel Sant' Angelo on the Tiber River, they plan to lead a candlelight march to the Vatican. Italian police have denied them a permit for the last leg of the demonstration but they say they will carry it out anyway. They hope several hundred victims and supporters will show up.
"We are asking that the world stand behind us, stand with us, and look at this petition that we are starting on Sunday so that we can get the U.N. to define systemic sexual abuse of children under crimes against humanity," said Bergeron.
"If that is not a crime against humanity, I don't know what is," he said, adding that no institution, including the Roman Catholic Church, "should be allowed to police itself."
Both men said the Vatican missed a chance to take a firm stand against sexual abuse eight years ago when the scandal first swept the United States.
Benedict has several times apologised for abuse and the Vatican says tougher measures have been put in place to screen out seminarians who could become abusers. Victim groups want the Vatican to publish a list of all known abusers.
McDaid said he fell into a cycle of drugs, crime and alcohol because of the psychological effect of the abuse before he was able to straighten himself out.
Wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the word "Enough," they declared the 12 months beginning on Sunday to be "the year of survivors," to push the Church to do more to protect children.
"The Church does not have the right to say 'we want to be the light of the world' and then sexually abuse children. We did not put the Catholic Church under a microscope, they did that to themselves by sexually abusing children," said Bergeron.
"How can an institution that can be so compassionate and so good also have so much evil in it?"
Editing by Peter Graff