A Canadian who survived sexual abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest is making the trip to Rome this week to be a part of the Church’s summit on how to protect minors from further mistreatment.
Gemma Hickey of St. John’s, N.L. will be among a group of survivors heading to the Vatican to protest the Church’s handling of decades worth of sexual abuse cases, and to meet with the summit’s four-member organizing committee on Wednesday.
"There's more than one survivor narrative,” Hickey told CTV News’ Atlantic Bureau Chief Todd Battis. “I have often been the voice for others, but there's a lot of us out there, men, women, people of all genders that are struggling and I want to get that message out."
The summit officially begins the next day with roughly 190 presidents of bishops' conferences from around the world, as well as several top Vatican officials.
Hickey was sexually abused by a Catholic priest as a young adult and years later founded the Pathways Foundation to help others who’ve experienced abuse within religious institutions.
"I've lost time and effort, shed a lot of tears over it, but I'm on the other side of it now and I feel good," Hickey said. "It's a continuous journey and I'm still learning but I'm committed to my life and I own it in a way that I hadn't before."
In 2015, Hickey walked across Newfoundland to raise money and awareness for the organization. The walk ended at a memorial for abuse victims at Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John’s, largely considered ground zero for the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in the province.
In 1989, police in Newfoundland re-opened a 1975 investigation into allegations of sexual abuse at the orphanage and found the Irish Christian Brothers, a Roman Catholic lay order, had committed several acts of physical and sexual abuse against boys who lived there. The investigation also found that the government, the police and the religious authorities knew about the abuse for years.
The Irish Christian Brothers apologized for the incidents in 1992 and later paid $16 million to the victims, while the province added $11 million. The orphanage was torn down in 1992 and is now the site of a subdivision and supermarket.
Hickey identifies as non-binary and was the first Canadian to be issued a gender-neutral birth certificate in 2017. The transition has sparked death threats, but Hickey is thankful it didn’t end the conversation the Pathways Foundation has had with local religious groups.
"I meet with bishops, Church officials, in an effort to continue the dialogue. For some reason it seems that hasn't gotten in the way, which is a very good thing,” Hickey said.
CTV News is planning to continue following Hickey’s journey in Rome later this week
With files from The Associated Press