Local Man to Lead Rally outside Vatican

By Tom Dalton
Salem News
October 30, 2010

SALEM Bernie McDaid has taken on the Catholic Church before.

In 2002, the former Salem altar boy joined a lawsuit against Cardinal Bernard Law and other church officials alleging that he and dozens of boys were abused by the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham, a serial pedophile who served at St. James Church in the late 1960s.

Two years ago, McDaid, who had emerged as a spokesman for priest abuse survivors, was one of three victims invited to meet with Pope Benedict XVI during his historic visit to Washington, D.C.

Tomorrow Halloween day the housepainter from Lynn will be outside the Vatican in Rome for "Reformation Day," an event he organized with Gary Bergeron, another Birmingham survivor, in the hope of shaking the Catholic Church at its foundation for what they feel is its systemic failure to protect children from abusive priests.

They chose Oct. 31 because of its powerful symbolism: It is the day Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Germany, an event that helped trigger the Protestant Reformation.

Tomorrow, in Rome, victims will gather from the United States, as well as Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands and other countries. Most will be wearing T-shirts with the word "Enough!" written in different languages.

In an interview before he departed, McDaid said he had no idea how many people will attend.

"This has really been an uphill battle for two survivors to pull this off," he said.

At the last minute, they learned they have been denied access to St. Peter's Square, so they will gather as close to the square as they can.

"We're getting quite a bit of coverage" especially in Europe, he said, where sex abuse scandals in the church have made headlines in recent months. "We probably have media from 15 countries coming to the event."

They will hold a moment of silence at 6:30 p.m. (Rome time) on Sunday and proclaim this the "Year of the Survivor." They will light a candle and pass it from person to person, lighting other candles along the way.

Both McDaid and Bergeron will address the crowd.

Whatever happens, McDaid said they intend to send a message of unity, hope and the need for change within the Catholic Church.

"In my mind, reformation has to do with change ..." he said. "The church needs to change in regard to child sexual abuse, and (the people) have to realize they have to stand up because the (church) hierarchy will not, or are incapable of doing this.

"What needs to be addressed is the survivors of this problem. They have not really had a voice. It's always been about the church, the lawyers, the money, and nobody has ever really addressed this dirty little secret. ...

"What I really want is the guilt and shame ... I want that to be lifted off the shoulders of the victims, who are the survivors of this. They are the innocent ones and should not feel guilt or shame whatsoever coming forward. ...

"It should be easier for children to come forward ... (and) that really is my aim to make it a better world that way."

On another front, Survivor's Voice, a nonprofit foundation started by McDaid and Bergeron, has started a petition asking the United Nations to define child sex abuse as "crimes against humanity."

McDaid said they decided to gather survivors from different countries in Rome so the church, and world, will see the global impact of this crime against children. They plan to return next year, he said, with an even larger group.

He said he doesn't know what will happen tomorrow, or what impact it will have, but hopes the church will take notice and that the message will spread to people around the world even in Salem on Halloween day.

"I'm asking people to light a candle on Halloween night in memory of the survivors," he said.

Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.