Friday 28th and Saturday 29th October in Rome there have been a series of events as part of the annual celebration organised by “Survivors Voice Europe” with the help of Anticlericale.net, part of the Italian Radical Party and supporter of the Secular Europe Campaign.
An important panel discussion on the theme “Science, Secularism, Religion” took place on Friday 28th afternoon in the Conference Hall of the Italian Chamber of Deputies in Rome, chaired by journalist Federico Tulli and transmitted by Radical Radio.
The conference was an occasion for several representatives of different associations to discuss the issues around secularism and human rights, in the eve of the annual demonstration of the survivors of clergy sexual abuse taking place outside the Vatican on Saturday 29th October.
Italian MP Maria Antonietta Farina Coscioni, President of the Association “Luca Coscioni” denounced the obstacles to freedom of scientific research, created by religious lobbies, not only in Italy, but also in the European Union, restricting the ability to effectively conduct scientific medical experiments, as we have seen recently with the rulings around Stem Cell Research.
Dr Edward Presswood, hospital doctor in London, spoke on behalf of the Secular Medical Forum, a new organisation in the UK that campaigns for a secular approach to current major health issues, opposing genital mutilation of children, denouncing the desire of religious lobbies to control our bodies.
Italian MP Maurizio Turco denounced that in a time of severe public spending cuts, Italian politicians of all parties don’t want to even discuss cutting the subsidies given to the Vatican, which are 6 billion euros per year. Secularism, as a term, keeps being qualified with adjectives that only serve to weaken it, like “healthy secularism”, or “just secularism”, and recently from the leader of the opposition “adult secularism”.
Marco Tranchino, co-ordinator of the Secular Europe Campaign since 2008, told the attendees how that coalition for secularism grew from 5 or 6 UK groups to over 90 associations in 15 EU Countries. The adjective used by the Vatican to describe the secularism we promote is “aggressive”, but we are just staunch defenders of human rights. Human rights without other qualifiers, while the Vatican only promotes those rights that it defines as “authentic”. As secularists we have always been on the side of the survivors of clergy sexual abuse, demanding that Church officials should not be above the law and their crimes punished by the civil authorities.
Naomi Phillips, Head of Public Affairs of the British Humanist Association, sent a message in support of this important panel discussion, denouncing the multitude of groups working in coalition against secularism to take away hard fought for freedoms and rights. The need for secularism across Europe has never been more urgent and the promotion of science as the best way to discover and understand the world around us is vital.
Sue Cox, founder of Survivors Voice Europe, used her knowledge as a medical practitioner to research and demonstrate how the sexual abuse of children creates long term brain damage and reduces the life span of the victims. Survivors Voice Europe is allied with humanists and secularists and demands a secular investigation into the cover up of the child abuse of catholic clergy.
Ton Leerschool, co-founder of Survivors Voice Europe, explained how their organisation is growing and now have contacts from all around the world. An important part of what they do is psicological help offered through the site, trying to empower the victims of sexual abuse and transform them in survivors.
Keith Porteous Wood, Chief Executive of the National Secular Society, explained in his message the work done at the United Nations to expose the church’s culpability and neglect. The Vatican’s supposed reforms are often just cosmetic, seeking to reassure the media that the problem has been addressed when in fact nothing has really changed, with the Church’s own interests before those of the children. The NSS produced a devastating 50 page report for the Council of Europe on the Church’s wholesale culpability over mental, physical and sexual child abuse in Ireland over many decades. A copy was sent to the Irish Government at the very time it issued its unprecedented rebuke to the Vatican.
Raffaele Carcano, head of the Italian Humanists (UAAR), also sent a message of support on behalf of the italian non believers, which are growing in numbers and now estimated as 10 millions. But while secularism is spreading among the Italian citizens, paradoxically the politicians of all parties have been approving laws (from RE in state schools to IVF treatment) that have made Italy less secular and more distant from the achievements of the other EU Countries. Sadly the requests of the Vatican find the support of almost all political leaders.
The conference ended with the commitment to keep working together, locally and in the EU, networking and building the movement that is so important to build the pressure to make real progress as never before.
Saturday 29th October victims of catholic clergy sexual abuse arrived in Rome from all around Europe for the annual celebration.
A touching meeting was held in the morning, hosted in the conference room of the Radical Party, where all the victims had the chance to tell their stories and share their feelings, and update each other about the work done since last year.
In the afternoon, the annual demonstration outside the Vatican took the form of a celebration of survival, with music and dance. The display of banners and placards was staged between St Peter’s square and the Castle of the Angel.
Hundreds of tourists stopped by to read the placards that, in all european languages, explained the unspeakable abuses committed by catholic priests and nuns and the appalling crimes committed by the Vatican officials trying to cover up the scandal and protect the pedofile clergy rather than putting the defence and security of children first.
The hearing and speech impaired survivors from the “Provolo” Institute in Verona held their banners asking the Vatican to finally co-operate with the civil authorities.
Sue Cox and Ton Leerschool spoke to the crowd and renewed the commitment to fight for justice, demanding a secular investigation into the abuses and the cover up.
The demonstration ended at the sunset, with dozens of lanterns lit up and sent flying in the beautiful roman sky towards the Castle of the Angel, with children and parents joining in with the music, in communion with the survivors asking for the truth and justice to prevail.