VATICAN CITY?Victims of sex abuse by priests should see the Roman Catholic Church increasingly as an ally in their fight for justice, the Vatican's spokesman said in a letter made public Monday.
Father Federico Lombardi had been greeted by cries of "Shame on you!" from around 60 victims of abuse and their families when he approached them as they demonstrated near St. Peter's Basilica with banners and torches on Sunday.
He quickly left but later met the organisers of the protestors, who came from Australia, Belgium, The Netherlands and the United States and handed them the unofficial letter.
Lombardi said sexual abuse was one of the great scourges of the world and what had happened in the Church was only a small part of it.
The Church had to give a good example in fighting the problem, he added, and called on victims to join forces with the Vatican, seeing it more and more as a possible ally.
Lombardi admitted that investigation and action in abuse cases must be much quicker, but insisted that religious authorities had done a lot and that the vast majority were a thing of the past.
The victims had hoped to lead a candle-lit vigil to the edge of St Peter's Square to leave personal messages for Pope Benedict XVI.
But the Vatican refused to give permission to enter the square and 25 police officers blocked the torch-bearing protesters from walking up the wide avenue that leads to the Basilica.
In the end only Gary Bergeron, who co-founded the US group Survivor's Voice with Bernie McDaid, and another victim managed to walk up to the Vatican, though they put out their torches before entering the square.
The Church is grappling with its worst crisis in 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.
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.