Pope Invited to Massive Gathering of Sex-Abuse Victims

Victims of the Catholic Church child abuse scandal have issued an invitation to Pope Benedict XVI to join them in a "Day of Reformation" later this year, where the organizers hope the pontiff will be able to meet face to face with the thousands of victims hurt by the massive scandal.

The event is being organized by Bernie McDaid and Olan Horne, two victims who met with Pope Benedict during his April 2008 visit to the U.S. and have since pledged to hold the pope's "feet to the fire" in regards to the crisis.

McDaid and Horne hope to bring 50,000 people to St. Peter's Square on October 31 this year to advocate for a platform that includes regular audits of dioceses and church bodies, outreach to victims, screening policies for potential clergy, and participation by sex abuse survivors in church policy making.

"For the first time, the children of these crimes from all over the world can unite in one voice," McDaid and Horne said in a prepared statement.

"This will mark the day that the world could not deny this problem anymore. Then those in pain can stand up for themselves with no more shame, and begin to heal."

The event's announcement comes as the Catholic Church remains embroiled in a furious media battle over its handling of the abuse scandal, which many have called a colossal failure.

On Tuesday, senior Vatican officials asserted that such negative media attention is part of anti-Catholic "hate" campaign due to the church's stance on abortion and same-sex marriage.

"The pope defends life and the family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, in a world in which powerful lobbies would like to impose a completely different" agenda, Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz said on a Vatican Radio broadcast.

Italian Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo added that the pope "has done all that he could have" against the offending clergy members, and denounced the ongoing campaign of "hatred against the Catholic church."

The remarks bear resemblance to ones made last week by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who said that the negative comments directed at the church are as bad as anti-Semitism.

Cantalamessa has since apologized for the remarks, saying, "If I inadvertently hurt the feelings of Jews and pedophilia victims, I sincerely regret it and I apologize."

Discussions over the church's requirement for priests to be celibate have also been raised in light of the scandal.

Former Jesuit priest of 20 years Damian Sassin told BBC that he believes the celibacy rule, while not the only issue, is part of the current crisis in the church and offered his personal reflection on the topic.

"It took me a while for me to... finally admit that I just couldn't live this [way] happily and healthily, knowing quite a few priests who obviously couldn't do that either, but kept doing it, and became more and more strange people," he said, adding that the scandal, along with the shrinking number of priests in Europe, should be signals for the church to enact reform on the issue.

Others have said that while celibacy is a possible factor, the issue shouldn't divert attention away from the crimes of the offenders.

"The offenders always say 'we are not the guilty ones; society is guilty, the church is guilty, celibacy is the problem, not us.'" Psychiatrist Manfred Luetz told BBC. "And I do not want to be an accomplice to such escape strategies."

Meanwhile, a church abuse hotline in Germany has received calls from nearly 2,700 people since its opening on March 30.

According to the Associated Press, most of the callers were either victims of abuse or relatives of victims, and their conversations with psychologists and other experts ranged from a few minutes up to an hour.

"The hot line shall give the victims an opportunity to talk about what has happened to them. From there, we decide what to counsel them," spokesperson Stephan Kronenburg told the AP.

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