Church abuse victims cycle from Munich to Rome

 VATICAN CITY – A group of 20 victims of abuse within the Catholic Church in Germany and Austria have set off on a 720km cycle route from Munich to Rome where they will meet with Pope Francis and protest in St. Peter’s Square to demand justice, reparations and transparency, Il Messaggero reported Monday. 

 The group, after receiving a blessing from the Bishop of the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, set off on Saturday and the cyclists are scheduled to arrive in Rome on May 17. 

 On their journey which will take them across the Apennine ridge, they will make various stops to pray and meet with Church and state representatives in order to initiate a dialogue on the treatment and prevention of sexual abuse within the Church. 

 The victims want to make people think and understand that they can no longer remain silent and that the damage they have suffered must be compensated both materially and morally. 

 Upon arrival in Rome, the victims will meet with the pope and will give him an edition of Michael Pendry’s artwork “Heart” as a symbol of their commitment. 

 Within the group there are those who were repeatedly abused in school swimming pools and while serving as altar boys. The oldest victim of the group, Dietmar Achleitner, who recently turned 80, recalls being regularly abused for seven years when he attended a Catholic boarding school. “It was a kind of spiritual and mental murder. I carried it with me all my life,” he said. 

 The travel expenses have been entirely covered by the Archdiocese of Munich and together with the victims, other cyclists have joined the group for stretches of their journey to express solidarity and support. 

 Achleitner, along with fellow victim Robert Köhler, released a joint statement explaining that the journey serves to make people think and highlights the Church’s cover-ups. 

 “Society does not want to allow a Church that cannot come to terms with the past. We will tell Pope Francis that the lack of consistency must be severely sanctioned. The Church needs heart and empathy for those affected.”