British woman tells of priest rape ordeal

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The Independent Online

A British woman spoke out about her rape ordeal at the hands of a priest, during a protest by clergy sex abuse victims near the Vatican.

Sue Cox, 63, from Warwickshire, was among around 100 survivors from a dozen countries, including Italy, the US, Ireland, the Netherlands and Australia, at yesterday's candlelit protest.

Italian paramilitary police blocked a boulevard leading to the Vatican to prevent marchers reaching St Peter's Square, but later allowed two protesters to leave letters from victims at the Holy See's doorstep.

The two also left a dozen stones near the obelisk in St Peter's square to mark a symbolic path so other survivors might know they had company in their suffering.

At a briefing before the march, Ms Cox was among participants who stood up one by one to tell how their lives had been destroyed by the abuse they suffered as children.

"For 50 years I thought I was the only person in the entire world that had been abused by a Catholic priest," she said.

Ms Cox clarified herself "raped by a Catholic priest, not abused, because what he did was rape me and rape is different".

"It's taken 50 years for me to find my voice. But now I've found it, I want to continue to speak on behalf of people who maybe aren't able to speak or have not yet been able to face the fear and the guilt and shame that survivors feel."

Ms Cox said she was raped in her bedroom when she was 13 by a priest who had been filling in for her parish priest and had been staying at her parents' home.

She said her mother saw immediately what had happened but did nothing and instead told Ms Cox to pray for the priest.

"I felt sacrificial," she said. "I wanted to die."

By 15 she was an alcoholic and by 17 she had entered into a violent marriage. But by 30 she was clean and now at 63 is confronting what she calls the final piece of her recovery - "the hardest bit" - speaking out about her abuse.

The candlelit protest was the first significant demonstration in the shadow of the Vatican by people who had been raped and molested by priests as children.

Organisers said it would be repeated until the Holy See took decisive action to ensure children were safe.

"Today what began as quiet whispers are whispers no more," organiser Gary Bergeron told the crowd, which included about 55 Italians from a notorious Catholic institute for the deaf in Verona where dozens of students said they were raped by priests.

Organisers had tried to stage the march on Vatican soil but were forced to hold it nearby after the Holy See denied permission. It is standard Vatican practice to ban non-Vatican-sponsored events from St Peter's Square.

The protest kicked off with the unexpected arrival of Vatican spokesman the Rev Federico Lombardi, who said he had wanted to greet the organisers and had prepared a statement he hoped to read.

But he beat a hasty retreat to his office after a protester shouted "Shame, shame" in Italian. Mr Lombardi said later he left when he saw "it wasn't going to be easy" to meet the organisers.

Mr Bergeron met Mr Lombardi later inside his Vatican office and told him that abuse survivors had been "waiting a lifetime to be able to stand up and speak out".

After the demonstration Mr Bergeron accompanied several other survivors to speak with Mr Lombardi and tell them their stories. They said they asked him to pass on their request to speak to other Vatican officials.

The event, which aimed to show survivors worldwide that they were not alone, was organised by Mr Bergeron and fellow American Bernie McDaid, who were abused by the same Boston priest from the sixth grade.

The two became some of the most prominent victims to speak out in the United States after the clerical abuse scandal erupted in their native Boston in 2002 and Mr McDaid was the first victim to meet Pope Benedict XVI when the pontiff visited the US in 2008.

Mr Bergeron and Mr McDaid organised the rally after the scandal erupted again on a global scale earlier this year, with revelations of thousands of victims in Europe and beyond, of bishops who covered up for paedophile priests and of Vatican officials who turned a blind eye to the crimes.

They are campaigning to have the United Nations designate systematic sexual abuse of children as a crime against humanity.

Mr Lombardi said he had intended to read a statement to the protesters saying he hoped they could the Roman Catholic church as an ally in the broader fight to end child sex abuse.

"Of course, we must continue to do more. And your cry today is an encouragement to do more," he said. "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."