BOSTON — Two years ago, Bernie McDaid stepped out of a police escort and into a Washington, D.C., chapel for a secret meeting with Pope Benedict XVI and a handful of clergy sex-abuse victims like him.
McDaid left afterward believing Benedict was beginning to understand the scope of his church's corruption. He doesn't believe that today.
"Was it a PR move? Looking back at that now, I have to say it was," McDaid said of the meeting. "Everything they do is not about the children. It's about the church. It's always the church first."
Pope Benedict and the Vatican have come under growing criticism as allegations of clergy sex abuse have spread across Europe. Some of the cases have raised questions about whether Pope Benedict did enough to root out pedophile priests under his watch before he became pope.
Olan Horne, 50, of Westfield, who also attended the meeting with the pope, believes Benedict was sincere that day, but says the pope hasn't done enough to help victims or reform the church.
"His feet need to be held to the fire more today than it was two years ago, that's evident in the headlines we're reading today," Horne said recently. "If Jesus Christ was alive today and walking this earth, he'd be overturning some tables."
The April 2008 meeting, clandestinely held between a Mass and a talk with Catholic educators, was arranged by Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley after Pope Benedict declined an invitation to visit Boston.
Horne, like McDaid, was abused by a Boston-area priest. He recalled how Benedict entered the room and offered the five people before him what Horne viewed as a heartfelt apology.
"He came out and sat in front of us like he was appealing his sentence," Horne said.
During their conversation, Horne asked the pope for forgiveness for his hatred toward the church. He said he needed to get past the anger to continue his work of making the church accountable for the damage it had caused.
When McDaid, 54, of Peabody, spoke alone with Benedict, he squeezed the pope's hand and implored him to do something about the "cancer" in his church.
McDaid now suspects the meeting didn't mean much.
With Europe now in the grip of scandal, McDaid said the church's hierarchy must change. He has begun planning a "Reformation Day" this fall at St. Peter's Square in Rome, where he envisions people gathering en masse to deliver that message.
"I want people to stand up and say, 'Enough is enough,' " he said.