Victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests accused Mexican Catholic Church officials on Saturday of denying them an audience with Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Mexico.
Members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said the Mexican Catholic Church has publicly said a meeting wasn't coordinated because abuse victims never approached them to request one.
However, Jesús Romero, a member of SNAP and a victim of abuse when he was 11 years old, said they requested a meeting with Mexico City Archbishop Norberto Rivera several times, but the request was never granted.
"This is not only another lie, it's another way to protect the pedophile priests that remain active," he said.
Joaquín Aguilar, another SNAP member who was abused when he was 13, said they had hoped they would be able to meet with the pope, just like abuse victims in other countries -- including the United States, Ireland, Australia, Malta and the pope's home country of Germany -- have been able to see Benedict XVI in his other international visits.
"The only thing they have achieved with this silence is make the pope look like an accomplice of all these crimes," said Aguilar, who is suing Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera in a federal court in Los Angeles for covering up several other cases of abuse.
Bernardo Barranco, director of the Center of Religious Studies of Mexico, called the decision not to meet with victims "a mistake" by the Mexican Catholic Church.
Barranco added that by placing the blame on victims groups for allegedly not requesting a meeting with the pope, the Catholic Church showed a "tremendous lack of sensitivity" and an unwillingness to know more about an issue they know exists in Mexico.
"The pope is essentially waiting for a subordinate to ask him (if he wants to meet with victims) to decide if he wants to know" about the problem, he said.
Juan Cruzalta, member of Católicas por el Derecho a Decidir, a group of Catholic women in favor of reproductive rights, said the Mexican Catholic Church has refused for many years to officially address the issue of sexual abuse by priests to avoid scandals.
"Unfortunately, the well-being of minors and obtaining justice for the victims is given less priority," he said.
Cruzalta said the secrecy and the protection of priests shields offenders from justice and results in church policies having repercussions in civil courts.
"The church worries for the well-being of people, but from the angle of charity, not from the practice of everybody's rights. Herein lies the great blindness of the clerical hierarchy," he said.
The accusation against the Mexican Catholic Church came hours before the presentation of a recently released book, "The Will Not to Know," which collects several leaked Vatican documents on the case of pederast priest Marcial Maciel.
Barranco, who wrote the book's foreword, said the book showed the deep crisis within the Catholic Church created by the issue of child abuse.
Elsewhere in the state, protesters also responded to the pope's visit.
According to local media, students on Thursday and Friday morning called for the protection of the secular state -- church and state were separated with the constitutional reform of 1857 -- and women's rights activists demanded respect for women's reproductive rights.
Católicas also wrote an open letter to the pope in which it criticizes the church for not having made a pronouncement against the high level of violence against women and murders in the country and for not officially recognizing the abuse of children by members of the church.
Aguilar said that by covering up the crimes, the church treated the abusers as the wronged ones.
"They are not the victims; we are the victims. Life ended for us, not them," he said.