ROME - ITALIAN paramilitary police blocked a boulevard leading to the Vatican to prevent a march on Sunday by some 100 survivors of clergy sex abuse from reaching St Peter's Square, but later allowed two protesters to leave letters from the abused at the Holy See's doorstep.

The two also left a dozen stones near the obelisk in St Peter's square to mark a symbolic path so other survivors might know they have company in their suffering.

The candlelit protest was the first demonstration in the shadow of the Vatican by people who had been raped and molested by priests as children, and organisers said it would be repeated until the Holy See takes decisive action to ensure children are safe.

'Today what began as quiet whispers are whispers no more,' organiser Gary Bergeron told the crowd, which included about 55 deaf Italians from a notorious institute for the deaf where dozens of students say they were sodomised by priests.

Organisers had tried to stage the march on Vatican soil but were forced to hold it nearby after the Vatican denied permission. It is standard Vatican practice to ban non-Vatican-sponsored events from St Peter's Square.

Sunday's protest began with the unexpected arrival of the Vatican spokesman, the Rev Federico Lombardi, who said he had wanted to greet the organisers and had written a two-page single space statement he apparently hoped to read. He beat a hasty retreat to his office after a protester shouted 'Shame, shame' in Italian.

Sex abuse survivors blocked