The wind was fierce, but it was nothing compared to the anger stirring among the 30 or so Catholics who protested Saturday morning outside the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, demanding change in the face of new allegations of sexual abuse by priests.
A grand jury has indicted three priests and a lay teacher on charges of sexual abuse of boys. The report, released on Feb. 10, also accused a high-ranking church official of shielding them.
The charges have left Catholics "hurt and bewildered and horrified," said Elly Kline, 58, of Bensalem, who brought her five-year-old granddaughter, Maria Kline, to the rally.
"We're all talking about it, but it's finally time to come together to do something," Kline said.
One protester held a sign reading, "Hold Sexual Predators and their Enablers Accountable." Several clutched a long banner proclaiming, "Protect Our Children."
Organized by a local chapter of the worldwide group Voice of the Faithful, the rally was the first of two gatherings planned for the weekend.
Another group from Chicago — the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) — was to hold two meetings Sunday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel at 1800 Market Street in Center City. A session set for 4 p.m. was to be open to the public, but a meeting to follow will be private and only for people who have been sexually assaulted by priests.
SNAP will also hold a candlelight vigil at 6 p.m. Sunday outside the Cathedral in memory of sexual abuse victims who have taken their lives.
"It's time to bring everyone together to express their concerns, frustrations and hopes and decide what we can do," said Barbara Blaine, an organizer for SNAP.
At Saturday's rally, Charles McMahon, 77, a member of the steering committee for Voice of the Faithful, pushed for legislative action in Pennsylvania.
Two bills that will be submitted in Harrisburg would make it easier for victims to come forward.
One bill would remove the statute of limitation on future offenses of child abuse; the other would open a two-year window to allow for civil complaints to be filed on past complaints.
In a 2005 grand jury report on sexual abuse in the church, most of the accused individuals could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations covering their crimes had run out.
In the past, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, which represents all the dioceses in the state, and insurance companies have raised objections to such reforms.
"We've been funding lawyers and lobbyists who are fighting the statute of limitation changes," McMahon said. "We have to be ready to beat them in this fight."
With the wind drowning out his voice, McMahon read from an 11-point call-to-action from Voice of the Faithful. The final point: refusing to support a $200 million capital fund-raising campaign for the diocese.
"Don't accuse us of being Catholic bashers," McMahon told the crowd. "We are Catholics. We are the church."
Arthur Baselice Jr. wanted justice for his son, Arthur 3d, who died of a drug overdose in 2006 at 28. Holding a poster board with his graduation photo, Baselice said his son's drug habit was started and fed by an abusive priest at Archbishop Ryan High School.
Baselice, too, was advocating for new laws. "It's not a Catholic thing. It's not designed to be against the Catholic Church," he said.
"It's designed to give any victim the opportunity to come forward and seek justice."