VATICAN CITY?Clerical sex abuse victims from across the world on Sunday took their calls for justice from Pope Benedict XVI to the doors of the Vatican itself.
Close to a hundred protesters ? victims of abuse and their families ? gathered in Rome before leading a candle-lit vigil to the edge of St Peter's Square on which they will leave personal messages for the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
The US group behind the event, Survivor's Voice, said the victims had not been given permission to enter the square as a group, but would attempt to go in small numbers to leave letters and stones to mark their visit.
"This isn't an attack on faith or religion, it's about behaviour and ethics," said Marco Lodo Rizzini, a spokesman for child victims of abuse from Italy's Antonio Provolo Institute for the Deaf.
Sixty-seven deaf-mute children at the Catholic institute in the city of Verona were allegedly abused by priests and lay staff between the 1950s and 1980s.
"The Pope keeps saying child abuse is a crime, but he needs actually to take some concrete action," said Lodo Rizzini.
Claims of clerical pedophilia have emerged from across Europe and the United States, with the Church accused of not acting quickly or firmly against priests involved and even covering up the problem.
People from 13 countries including Australia, Belgium, Britain, The Netherlands and the United States gathered before the demonstration to meet fellow victims and tell their stories.
"I hope to find what I lost as a little girl here today, by saying my piece and carrying my candle," said Shelly Winemiller, a 42-year-old mother from Wisconsin who was abused from the age of four to 14 by the family priest.
"The priest was my father's best friend, and the whole community trusted him. When I came out to my family four years ago it nearly tore us apart," she said in tears.
"But the worst part was having to tell Church officials over and over again what happened, reliving the horror each time, and they still won't officially admit I was abused," she added.
Ton Leerschool, a 57-year-old Dutch entrepreneur who was abused by a priest as a child and now runs a foundation in Holland for male victims, said it was emotional to meet others torn apart by the same pain and anger he felt.
"Deep inside me there is a physical memory of what happened, it sickens and torments me and I can't control it... but if we can get the Church to admit the abuse took place and give us justice, that will help us to heal," he said.
"We want action, we want a complete disclosure of all information, to know who is responsible at every level, not just naming the priest who raped me but his boss as well," Leerschool said.
Gary Bergeron, who founded Survivor's Voice with a fellow victim of clerical child abuse, Bernie McDaid, said the aim was "to bring survivors and supporters from around the world together for the first time."
"We're gathering at the Vatican because we want the world to realize that if a child can be abused somewhere that is supposed to be the ultimate safe place, it can happen anywhere," said Bergeron.
Bergeron, who told his parents in 2002 he had been abused before discovering that his father was also a victim of clerical pedophilia, said the demonstration was not about making an example of the Catholic Church.
"Sadly it has already made an example of itself," he said.
The Church is grappling with its worst crisis in recent years since the publication in November 2009 of a report revealing serial abuse of children by priests in Ireland and a subsequent cover-up, with similar cases unveiled in countries including Belgium and Germany.
Senior clerics were accused of protecting guilty priests by shifting them to other parishes, where some offended again, instead of handing them over to face justice.
Pope Benedict XVI himself has faced allegations that, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when he headed the Vatican morals watchdog and earlier as the Archbishop of Munich, he failed to take action against predator priests.
The US association plans to mark the demonstration in Rome by announcing "The Year of the Survivor" and has started a global online petition to call on the United Nations to define pedophilia a "crime against humanity."