Nfld. & Labrador

Gemma Hickey in Rome for clergy abuse summit

Gemma Hickey is skeptical of the closed-door meeting between Pope Francis and more than 100 bishops, but is hopeful some good comes from it.

Hickey won't be inside the meeting, but will be outside with other survivors of priest abuse

Gemma Hickey is a clergy abuse survivor and founder of the Pathways Foundation, a group for other victims. (CBC)

Survivors who suffered abuse at the hands of their priests will stand outside the gates of the Vatican this week as Pope Francis and more than 100 bishops from around the world gather inside.

Gemma Hickey will be among the people on the outside.

Pope Francis has convened a summit at the Vatican on sexual abuse by clergy. (Luca Zennaro/EPA-EFE)

The St. John's activist and clergy abuse survivor headed to Rome on Wednesday with tempered expectations, but a sense of importance.

"I think it's going to be really empowering for me and for other survivors, to be coming together to address this global crisis," Hickey said in an interview with CBC. "But also to realize that we are not alone."

After suffering abuse from a Roman Catholic priest, Hickey said there was a lingering feeling of loneliness. But surrounded by other survivors, they expect to find comfort in numbers.

"It's very isolating to be abused by a priest because of the culture of secrecy within the Catholic Church," Hickey said. "So the fact that I can look around and see other survivors, other people who have had similar life experiences as mine, will be very comforting and therapeutic."

What will happen behind closed doors?

Hickey is trying to stay hopeful, but is skeptical of the closed-door meeting.

Pope Francis convened the summit with the hopes of tackling the sexual abuse crisis inside the church. The summit comes days after the 30th anniversary of the police investigation into Mount Cashel being re-opened.

The investigation eventually led to 87 charges levied against nine Christian Brothers, and a multi-million dollar settlement with 40 victims in 1997, and 80 more in 2003.

"Newfoundland and Labrador is basically ground zero when it comes to this type of abuse and I really wanted us to have representation there and to have a seat at the table," Hickey said.

How do they address all the cover-up over the years?- Gemma Hickey

In 1989, the church commissioned an inquiry into what happened at Mount Cashel. The commissioner found the "church aligned themselves with the accused," in dismissing the claims of the victims.

With this summit, Hickey wants to know how the church will handle victims coming forward in the future — if they'll be accepted, or if their claims will be swept under the rug.

"How do they address all the cover-up over the years?"

While in Rome, Hickey will meet with officials from the Canadian embassy and march with survivors.

Whatever comes from the summit inside the gates, Hickey hopes the gathering outside the gates brings peace to the people living with the trauma of clergy abuse every day.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador