Barbara Blaine, Peter Isely, John Pilmaier and Barbara Dorris from the Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) were detained by Vatican City police after holding an "unauthorized" demonstration on the edge of St Peter's Square.
They were mid-conversation with news reporters during a protest against decades of Church "silence" when uniformed officers took them away in a police car. Before being detained the group hoisted banners and placards reading "Stop the secrecy now" and "Expose the truth."
Standing on the fringe of the Vatican's headquarters and not far from the papal apartment, they accused Pope Benedict of having imposed secrecy on clerical sex abuse cases when he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before being elected Pope five years ago.
The protest was especially pitched this morning in Rome, following new assertions that Pope Benedict XVI had personally covered up the case of the late Father Lawrence Murphy in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Ms. Blaine and her Chicago colleagues were discussing the New York Times disclosures with reporters when they were approached by police and asked for their passports. Blaine, the leader of SNAP, was heard repeatedly asking the police what they had done wrong. It is unclear if they will face any charges. Blaine and other protesters have been similarly detained in the past-the tactic seemingly a way to disrupt public demonstrations.
The SNAP activists are on a trip taking them to Germany, Austria and the Netherlands as well as Rome. SNAP said that Pope Benedict's letter last weekend to the Irish bishops on the sex abuse crisis over their handling of a half-century of sexual abuse of minors by clergy was inadequate because it made no reference to the Vatican's own responsibility.
According to a statement on SNAP's website Thursday morning responding to the Times article: "These records prove that the world's two top Catholic officials did nothing about a serial predator despite repeated pleas from three US bishops. The reason was because then-Cardinal Ratzinger and then-Cardinal Bertone were afraid of publicity. The year was 1998. The obvious result was that more kids were molested. The likely result was that more kids were molested. And now, the likely result will be that any papal words about getting tough with predators or being open about abuse will be meaningless, because church staff will see that the Pope himself, just a dozen years ago, opted for secrecy and inaction with an admitted predator. Let's be clear about Ratzinger and Bertone: They did nothing. They didn't call police, warn citizens, contact parents, defrock the predator, or insist that Wisconsin bishops do anything other than keep quiet. If they refuse to act against a pedophile who admits molesting 34 kids, imagine their indifference and inaction with pedophiles who admit nothing and molest fewer. If they rebuff three bishops, imagine how they respond to lay Catholics and victims. Let's be clear about the Wisconsin bishops: They are no saints either. They delayed for years, contacting the Vatican only when lawsuits were threatened. Before, after, or instead of seeking Rome's advice, they could and should have done their civic and moral duty by calling police. None of them apparently ever did."