Pontiff off Limits to Locals
Lowell Men Meet with Vatican Official but Fail in Attempt to Talk with Pope

By Jason Lefferts
The Lowell Sun [Lowell MA]
Downloaded March 30, 2003

LOWELL Three survivors of alleged priest molestation did not achieve their goal of meeting with Pope John Paul II last week, instead meeting with a high-ranking Vatican official.

Gary Bergeron, a Lowell native who claims he was abused by now-deceased Fr. Joseph Birmingham, said he and his father Eddie who claims he was also abused as a child and Bernard McDaid, another alleged Birmingham victim, met with a monsignor from the Vatican's Secretary of State office on Thursday in Rome.

Gary Bergeron said the meeting was energized and wide-ranging, as the three men talked for over an hour with the Catholic Church official.

"It was very intense. It was also very open, very honest, very frank," Bergeron said. "He definitely got a taste of the human side of the reality of this crisis and how it's affecting real lives and real families."

Bergeron and McDaid have become two of the leaders of a group of Birmingham survivors. They went to Rome hoping for a meeting with the pope, saying they wanted to put a face on, and some emotion, into the priest-abuse scandal that has rocked the church.

In the course of a week, the three Americans quickly found out that the Vatican is steeped in confusing administration.

"I was warned by many insiders of the church that the workings of the Vatican (were) unlike anything they had experienced, and I found that out first-hand," Bergeron said. "It was, literally, a world unto itself."

The hoped-for meeting with the pope did not happen. The closest the three came was front-row seats at the pope's weekly Wednesday audience, where they could not speak with him.

The three went to Rome saying they were going to "knock on doors," hoping to find a way into the Vatican's inner sanctum. Bergeron said they ended up meeting with seven officials. The meeting with the secretary of state official was held in the Americans' hotel suite.

At that meeting, the Vatican official said he had been asked by the pope to meet with the three men, and that the pontiff sent a message that he is doing all he can to solve the problems created by the scandal.

Bergeron said he and the others pushed the church to do more, especially by cracking down on bishops still in power who played a role in covering up the scandal.

The three plan to return to Italy this summer, in time for Eddie Bergeron's 78th birthday on July 29, to push again for a papal meeting. Gary Bergeron said he didn't consider the trip a failure and said some good came out of the trip.

"It wasn't a home run, but it was a triple, and we have a good guy at bat," Gary Bergeron said. "We went over there with several goals. One of mine was to get some healing with my father, and my father said (Thursday night) was the first time he had slept through the whole night in the last year."

Jason Lefferts' e-mail address is .

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