Canadians who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic priests marched in Rome on Saturday, demanding a zero tolerance approach from the Vatican.
Gemma Hickey of St. John’s, N.L., took part in the protest. Hickey told CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian that meeting other survivors was both comforting and heartbreaking.
“This is the first time I’ve had the experience to connect with people in person from all over the world where we’re all sharing the same pain,” Hickey said.
The march attracted several dozen people, who chanted “zero, zero,” as roughly 190 bishops met for the third day of Pope Francis’ summit on sexual abuse.
Inside the summit, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the Archbishop of Munich, made a stunning statement.
“Files that could have documented the terrible deeds and named those responsible were destroyed or not even created,” he said.
The protesters say that clergy who sexually assault children or participate in covering it up should be automatically booted from the church.
Pope France has released a 21-point plan to address abuse but the plan does not commit to zero tolerance.
During the march, Hickey spoke with another survivor about feeling groomed by an abusive priest as a child.
“He used to buy me things, and make me feel special and at the time I was hurting so much,” Hickey said. “Going through whatever I was going through at home with my family was really hard and the church was my refuge.”
Hickey told CTV News that visiting Rome felt in some ways like opening up an old wound, but that it also felt very empowering.
“I feel also a part of this great shift and change,” Hickey said. “I feel like a lot of things that make up my identity are finally intersecting… It’s all coming full circle for me and it feels pretty incredible.”
Leona Huggins, another Canadian abuse victim who marched, told the crowd she was there “for the little children.”
She said their protest is about “the power or an organization versus the vulnerability of the little child.”
With files from The Associated Press