Gone too soon:

Philip James Saviano

June 23, 1952 – November 28, 2021

photo of a young Phil Saviano

Click here to see Tributes to Phil

“Truth Prevails” – Jan Hus

Phil Saviano photographed outside St. Denis church, Douglas, MA
Phil Saviano at St. Denis church, Douglas, MA in summer 1997
“Saviano is what we don’t see enough of in this tragic story; a true survivor, a living, inspiring, example of a man who’s struggled to come to terms with what happened, and triumphed.”Margery Eagan, BOSTON HERALD 2002

Phil Saviano’s Bio

The name “Phil Saviano” became known to clergy abuse victims around the world in 2016, due to his portrayal in the Academy Award winning film, “Spotlight.” People in the United States, however, especially those closely involved in SNAP, the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests,” had, by then, known of Phil’s courage, compassion and generosity of spirit for nearly 25 years.

It was in late 1992 that he broke his silence about his childhood sexual assaults by the Worcester, MA Diocese priest David Holley.HIs revelations led to front page news reports in the Boston Globe and USAToday. In 1996, after gaining access to Holley’s personnel files, Phil reached a lawsuit settlement with the Diocese. In a unique triumph, he became the first known Massachusetts abuse victim to settle a case with no restrictions on speaking freely about what he’d learned. It led to a Boston Globe story with a headline that was predictive of Phil’s future work, “He Refuses To Be Silent.” The next year, he formalized his outreach to other victims, and established the New England chapter of SNAP.

“He Refuses To Be Silent”.Boston Globe story headline

In August 2001, the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Investigation team called him in for what would become a historic meeting. The head of the team, Walter Robinson, had just been given orders by the newspaper’s new top editor, Marty Barron, to dig into the case of pedophile priest John Geoghan. Phil’s invitation to meet the team came after three phone conversations with Robinson, who realized that Phil’s depth of knowledge on the issue would be very helpful as his team got their investigation off the ground. Phil’s presentation to the four reporters went on for nearly four hours. Spotlight reporter Mike Rezendes remembers it as “a graduate-level seminar on the issue of Catholic clergy abuse.”

phil saviano childhood photo age 11
Phil Saviano at age 11.

While conferring with Globe reporters for months that followed, Phil also took over and expanded SNAP’s fledgling website. What he created became an educational resource for reporters and the public. In 2002, as the clergy abuse issue exploded into one of the biggest national news stories of the decade, the website became a critical life-line, connecting and mobilizing clergy abuse survivors across the United States. As that historic year came to a close, just before Cardinal Law resigned from the Archdiocese, Phil gave up his volunteer leadership role running the SNAP chapter, seeking a quieter life and a paid job. He moved on to other projects, but continued running the SNAP website, now in a paid position, through 2007.

His other contributions to SNAP include serving two terms on the SNAP Board of Directors. He went along with the SNAP and CCR team on their 2011 European press tour after taking allegations that Vatican officials were committing crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. In 2013, he ran the website for, and helped to convene the first SNAP Global Conference, in Dublin Ireland. At its annual conference in 2015, SNAP presented Phil with its Pioneer Award. The video of the presentation and his acceptance speech are contained elsewhere on this website.

Through 25 years of activism, Phil has shown an uncanny ability to thrive, both physically and emotionally, despite experiences that could derail others. This trait seems to go back to his childhood. In a telling, 1995 letter from prison, Fr. David Holley recalled the 12-year-old boy who he had molested. “Even at an early age,” he wrote, “Phil was very talented and possessed a remarkable personality.” One might not expect such words of praise from a serial child molester. Nevertheless, regardless of his talent or personality, the repeated assaults that he endured from the priest left their mark.

Years later, when a young man in college, Phil was haunted by the psychological fallout of his abuse. Through deep introspection, and two summers of solitary travel hitchhiking through Europe, he managed to pull himself out of an emotional tailspin. With a more enlightened view of the world and his place in it, he began to get his life on track.


2/28/2016 – Celebrating Spotlight’s Best Picture win at the Academy Awards are, from left, Mike Rezendes, Boston Globe Spotlight Team reporter; actor Mark Ruffalo, who plays him in the movie; Phil Saviano; actor Rachel McAdams; and screenplay writer Josh Singer, who (with Tom McCarthy) won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

Phil Saviano’s live interview from 2019 Vatican Summit, broadcast to Croatia and the Bosnian Peninsula. NOTE: Intro is in Croatian, interview is in English.

With a Master’s Degree in Communications from Boston University, he embarked on a career in hospital public relations. He later switched to entertainment publicity and concert production. All of this success was derailed in late 1991 when he became very sick with AIDS. It was late the next year, during an unexpected, temporary reprieve from his sickness, that he went public about his childhood abuse.

“Facing a hopeless prognosis, Phil was reborn an activist”.
Facing what seemed to be a hopeless health prognosis, Phil was reborn as an activist. Then, with the healing power of the new protease inhibitor medications, he survived, even thrived. He spent the next decade supporting other clergy abuse victims, and using the news media to get the word out about the church’s shameful cover-up. Despite his long involvement with the issue, he has cultivated many outside interests. An offshoot of his life-long travels is a venture he launched in 1999, an e-commerce website called Viva Oaxaca Folk Art. It is a showcase for handmade, decorative art that he buys on trips to southern Mexico, then resells to collectors all over the United States. n 2015, when he got swept up in the media vortex surrounding “Spotlight,” he worried about balance and perspective and being defined by his childhood abuse. He didn’t worry long. His is a lifeline that leads from a darkened church basement in 1965, to a moment, some 50 years later, when he is standing under bright lights at the Academy Awards, hoisting writer Josh Singer’s Oscar while actor Mark Ruffalo eagerly takes his picture. Phil has decided, in retrospect, . . . that’s not a bad thing to be defined by. Phil Saviano comes from a family background that is Catholic on both sides — Italian and Czechoslovakian. Over the course of many trips to Prague and Slovakia, he learned about the great Czech national and religious hero, Jan Hus. A historic figure who Phil feels some affinity with, Hus was a 15th century Catholic priest who made a name for himself by preaching against church corruption. He also got himself into a lot of trouble. In 1415, he was burned at the stake for heresy against the doctrines of the Catholic Church.

jan hus statue in Prague
Statue of Jan Hus, near St. Nicholas church, in Prague’s Old Town square.

A hundred-year-old monument to Jan Hus is now a focal point of Prague’s historic Old Town Square. (See pictures in the Gallery section). Inscribed in the base is a quote from Hus, in Czech, reading “Pravda Vítězí.” It translates in English as “Truth Prevails.” In the issue of Catholic clergy child sex abuse, once hidden perhaps for generations, the truth certainly has prevailed.