Image: Therese Albrecht aged eight
Nigel Roddis  /  Reuters
Chicago native Therese Albrecht holds a picture of herself aged eight during a protest in Edinburgh, Scotland.
updated 9/16/2010 8:40:06 AM ET 2010-09-16T12:40:06

Wearing the dress she wore to her first communion and hands held together as if in prayer, the eight-year-old Therese Albrecht looks like a poster child for the Catholic Church.

The caption, which she added as an adult after years of depression, suicidal thoughts and psychiatric treatment, tells a different story: "Raped at age eight."

It is a striking image which Albrecht hopes will have made an impact on Pope Benedict XVI as he waved to thousands of well-wishers who lined the streets of Edinburgh, Scotland , on Thursday during the first papal state visit to the U.K. in nearly 500 years.

Albrecht traveled more than 3,700 miles from her home in Chicago with three other Americans — who all say they were abused by priests — to hold a silent demonstration. They allowed the childhood photographs of themselves and other victims to make their case.

Speaking from the Scottish capital's Princes Street as they waited for the pope to pass by, Albrecht told that she was sexually abused by a priest from the age of eight to 11 and also by a nun.

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"I hope he takes notice of all the posters of all these innocent children in the prime of their youth ... basically their soul was murdered," she said. "Some of the posters of the children ... they committed suicide as adults. As someone who was suicidal herself, that touches me deeply."

While Benedict has apologized several times and acknowledged Thursday that the church had failed to act decisively to deal with pedophile priests, campaigners are urging him to take stronger steps.

Barbara Dorris, outreach director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) victims' group, told that they wanted to see a publicly accessible, worldwide register of priests who were "credibly accused predators," so parents could find out if their children were at risk.

Image: Therese Albrecht, Barbara Blaine and Barbara Dorris
Lefteris Pitarakis  /  AP
Therese Albrecht, Barbara Blaine and Barbara Dorris display photos of themselves as children outside a church in Edinburgh, Scotland.

They also want the pope to hand over internal church documents about sex-abuse accusations to local police for investigation and bishops who were complicit in the "cover-up" of sexual abuse to be disciplined.

"I'm here today because I feel children are still being abused by the clergy," Dorris said. "I think I'm disappointed in him [the pope]. He is the spiritual leader of one of the world's largest religions, the safety of children should be, as the kids say, a 'no-brainer.'"

She said she felt "sad and frustrated" by the pope's response to the recent upsurge in accusations and evidence of abuse, saying despite his apologies and "lofty promises," he had actually done "nothing."

Video: Queen welcomes pope in Scotland (on this page)

Dorris, 50, of St. Louis, Mo., said she was sexually abused by a priest from the age of six to 13. She said this "destroyed all my self-confidence" and she had suffered from depression and "horrible nightmares."

"I was never a child. I never did any of the normal things other children do," she said. "I spent my life trying to hide from that man, so he couldn't rape me."

Barbara Blaine, the president of SNAP, said the group had more than 10,000 members, mostly in the U.S. with some from other English-speaking countries. It has also been forming links with similar groups in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Speaking after the papal procession, Blaine said that the pope had looked towards them. However, she was unsure whether he had seen them or the pictures they were holding.

"He just kept a straight-face really," she said. "He kind of had a half-smile on his face as he looked in our direction. If he recognized any of us, if he was touched in any way, he didn’t show it."

Blaine said she was abused from the age of 12 or 13 until she was 17 by a priest.

"It's been horrible. It's taken me many, many years of therapy and hard work to overcome the devastation caused by the abuse," she added.

"I didn't get married until I was 45 years old. It happened during my development, it impacted on my self-esteem, my sense of who I am," she said, adding that this had been followed by depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. "I have overcome most of that, but it's been a very difficult journey."

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Many clergy, Blaine felt, had remained silent out of fear for their position. "I think most priests fail to understand how their silence hurts the victims. I believe if they wanted, they could speak up and demand that the bishops who covered up these crimes should be punished ... and that the predator priests be kicked out."

Despite this, Blaine said that she still considered herself a Catholic, as did Albrecht and Dorris.

"I am a Catholic, but my faith is in God, not in those church officials who have covered this up," Blaine added. "When history looks back on this, it will be seen that we are actually providing a gift for the church.

"If we remain silent, then we think the abuse will continue and the evil will continue in the church. We are exposing evil ... helping to make the children safer. Many people view us as enemies of the church, but we are not enemies at all."

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Video: Queen welcomes pope in Scotland

  1. Transcript of: Queen welcomes pope in Scotland

    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: But let us begin with Pope Benedict 's controversial and historical four- day trip to the United Kingdom . NBC 's Stephanie Gosk is in Edinburgh , Scotland with that. Stephanie , good morning to you.

    STEPHANIE GOSK reporting: Good morning, Meredith . Well, the pope arrived here in Edinburgh this morning on board an Alitalia jet with the call sign Shepherd One. On the flight over, he addressed the priest abuse scandal with reporters. He said that the Catholic Church didn't act fast enough or decisively enough. And that's just one of many controversial issues he's going to have to deal with in his four- day trip here. It's the first official state visit by a pope to Britain in nearly 500 years. Greeted by Prince Philip and Scottish clergy, he made his way along Edinburgh 's Royal Mile to Hollyrood Palace to be received by the queen. The pope's meeting with the queen is a rare event, and this exchange of gifts a gesture that Britain 's Catholics hope will mend a rift that began with King Henry VIII in the 16th century .

    GOSK: Henry VIII went on to marry five more wives and demolished and sold off Catholic monasteries in an ongoing feud with the Vatican that led to a permanent split from the church in Rome .

    Dr. LUCY WORSLEY (Historian): For hundreds of years, it was illegal to be a Catholic in this country, and he's been persona non grata really since the 16th century . So it's a sort of -- it's a healing. He's back again.

    GOSK: The faithful in Scotland are flocking to catch a glimpse of Pope Benedict in the bulletproof popemobile, like these Catholic schoolkids. How fast does it go?

    Unidentified Boy #1: Normally it goes 150 miles an hour.

    GOSK: It goes 150 -- the popemobile goes 150 miles an hour?

    Group of children: Yes.

    GOSK: No, it doesn't.

    Unidentified Boy #2: Just like there's -- just in case there's something serious that happens.

    GOSK: But not everyone is welcoming. Some are getting ready for a confrontation.

    Unidentified Man #1: We are urging the pope to open the Vatican secret sex files.

    GOSK: As elsewhere in the Catholic world , there is anger about the lingering sex abuse scandal that has rocked the church for nearly a decade.

    Unidentified Man #2: The church has made a mess of its response to incidences of child abuse.

    GOSK: And there is resentment of the pope's inflexibility on the issue of women priests.

    Archbishop VINCENT NICHOLS: Oh, there's always controversy about papal visits, and then when he arrives the sun comes out and those clouds disperse and people really take to him.

    GOSK: Scottish singing sensation Susan Boyle can't wait to meet the pope tonight. Her Catholic faith has carried her though difficult times, she says, and she's ready to give Pope Benedict the performance of her life.

    Ms. SUSAN BOYLE: To sing for his holiness is a dream beyond anyone's imagination. I'll probably be feeling excited. I'm very honored to be here and I'm very humble.

    GOSK: The trip began with even more controversy. One of the pope's chief aides, Cardinal Walter Kasper , gave an interview with a German magazine where he compared landing in London's Heathrow Airport to landing in a third world country. A lot of people were very offended by those comments. Late last night the cardinal pulled out of the trip. The Vatican says that he isn't

Photos: Pope Benedict XVI visits the United Kingdom

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  1. Pope Benedict XVI, right, is seen next to his personal secretary, father Gaenswein George, as they arrive at the Ciampino airport in Rome on Sunday, Sept. 19, after a four-day visit to England and Scotland. (Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Pope Benedict XVI leaves Oscott College seminary in Birmingham, England, Sept. 19. (Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Pope Benedict XVI addresses a mass to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, pictured in the background, in Birmingham, England, on Sept. 19. Pope Benedict XVI's state visit to Britain has been a "spiritual success", his spokesman said Sunday. (Adrian Dennis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A girl takes holy communion as Pope Benedict XVI takes the beatification mass of Cardinal Newman at Cofton Park on Sept. 19, in Birmingham, England. On the last day of Pope Benedict XVI's state visit, the Pontiff is beatifying Cardinal Newman in front of over 60,000 faithful. His Holiness also met The Queen as well as political and religious representatives during the four day visit. (Christopher Furlong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Pilgrims await the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI in Cofton Park, Birmingham, England, Sept. 19. (Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. People crowd Hyde Park during a prayer vigil led by Pope Benedict XVI in London, Sept. 18. (Gregorio Borgia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Pope Benedict XVI chats with Catholic youth outside Westminster Cathedral in central London on Sept. 18. Pope Benedict apologised to victims of sexual abuse on Saturday, saying paedophile priests had brought "shame and humiliation" on him and the entire Roman Catholic Church. (Max Rossi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Pope Benedict XVI arrives for a celebration of Catholic education at St Mary's University College, Twickenham, in SW LondonFriday. The pope is on a four day visit to the United Kingdom. (Claudio Onorati / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pope Benedict XVI arrives for a service of prayer at St Mary's University College Chapel during day two of his four day state visit at Twickenham on Friday in London, England. (Wpa Pool / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Pope Benedict XVI meets Britain's Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, during a meeting of religious leaders at St Mary's University College, in Twickenham, south-west London on Friday. (Toby Melville / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Police patrol outside the Houses of Parliament ahead of the visit by Pope Benedict XVI, where he will give an address to the Civil Society, Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster on Friday in London. (Matt Cardy / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Pilgrims depart from buses parked near Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, prior to the papal mass to be celebrated there Thursday afternoon. (Chris Clark / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Supporters gather ahead of the arrival of Benedict for the papal mass at Bellahouston Park on Thursday. (Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Queen Elizabeth II's husband, Prince Philip, greets Pope Benedict XVI Thursday as he arrives in Scotland to begin a four-day trip. The trip is the first to the U.K. by a Pontiff since John Paul II in 1982, and the first to be designated a state visit as Queen invited him, rather than the church. (Andrew Milligan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. The pope inspects a guard of honour at Edinburgh Airport on Thursday. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Crowds watch as the Popemobile makes its way along Edinburgh's Princes Street on Thursday. (Derek Blair / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Pilgrims display their souvenir scarves in Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, Scotland, on Thursday ahead of a celebration of mass slated for later in the day. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Pope Benedict XVI, right on stage, Britain's Prince Philip, left, and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, center, inspect an honor guard of members of the Royal Company of Archers and members of the Royal Regiment of Scotland Band as the Pope arrives at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, in Edinburgh on Thursday. (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The pope's controversial yet historic state trip to the United Kingdom has been overshadowed by the sex abuse scandals which have shaken confidence in the Roman Catholic Church. (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip walk with the pope to the Morning Drawing Room in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen's official residence in Scotland on Thursday. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Ulster Protestant leader Rev. Ian Paisley, center, is seen at a protest at Magdalen Chapel in Edinburgh as the pope arrives at the city. (Jon Super / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A car drives past an billboard ahead of the pope's visit. (Paul Ellis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A double-decker bus on London's Oxford St. carries a poster urging the pope to ordain women as priests. (Horacio Villalobos / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Pope Benedict XVI arrives for mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, Scotland, Thursday. (Nigel Roddis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Pope Benedict XVI's kisses a baby as he arrives for mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, Scotland, Thursday. (Nigel Roddis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Pope Benedict XVI conducts Mass at Bellahouston Park on Thursday, Sept. 16 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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