DALLAS – Holding signs with such statements as "grace in truth, not in secrecy," about 50 protesters gathered peacefully Thursday as American bishops met in a hotel across the street.
John Vogel, 38, of St. Joseph, Minn., was among those who came early to the protest outside the Fairmont Hotel. Vogel said he was abused by a priest when he was 8.
"I want them to come find me. I've been waiting for 30 years," he said. "What I want is zero tolerance. Abusing a kid is not OK at any time. A law is law."
The meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is devoted to the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the American church since January. Bishop Wilton Gregory, the group's president, opened the meeting Thursday with a moving speech acknowledging the prelates' role in creating the sex scandal.
Several members of the group Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests tried to enter the meeting but were barred by security.
"I've traveled a long way to be here just to be left outside," SNAP board member Terri Light said. "We can't even get in to listen."
No arrests have been made.
"They're well behaved, peaceful," police spokeswoman Janice Houston said of the protesters.
About 20 police officers patrolled the area on foot. The number of demonstrators was expected to build throughout the day and police had set up a command post inside the hotel.
A throng of protesters was expected by evening for a six-block candlelight march to the hotel, followed by a 12-hour prayer vigil.
Only a handful of protesters were on hand Wednesday.
Bob Kunst of Miami Beach, Fla., held a handmade sign calling for the ouster of priests who have sexually abused children, along with bishops who knew about the abuse but did nothing.
"I want these bishops to resign because they are even more culpable than the priests because they are covering it up," said Kunst, who is Jewish.
Groups representing gays and lesbians, advocating women's ordination and victims' rights also are observing the conference; typically only a few dozens attend the bishops twice annual gathering and most of them are Catholic media.
Security at the meeting hotel is so tight that no one can get to the guest floors — or even the gift shop — without a security pass. Hundreds of journalists have been warned that their credentials will be yanked if they dare speak with bishops in the hallways or the restaurant.