EL PASO TIMES | November 23, 2015
By Diana Washington Valdez
Victims of a predatory priest who served in El Paso and Alamogordo helped provide the impetus for the Boston Globe investigation that revealed a widespread cover-up by the Catholic Church highlighted by the movie “Spotlight.”
The film’s all-star cast focuses on the newspaper’s investigation “Spotlight Investigation: Abuse in the Catholic Church,” which garnered the daily a Pulitzer Prize in 2003. The new movie by Open Road Films is showing in theaters across El Paso and the nation.
Robert J. Curtis and Phil Saviano were both victimized by the Rev. David A. Holley, who was considered one of the most notorious sexual predators who wore the cloth.
“It was estimated that Holley had molested over 32 boys during his three years as a parish priest at St. Jude’s Mission in Alamogordo,” Curtis said. In 1972, St. Jude’s was part of the El Paso Catholic Diocese.
Curtis, then 11 years old, was a paperboy for the El Paso Times in Alamogordo when Holley zeroed in on him.
“He lived down the street from me, and across the street from the school and church,” Curtis said. “When I asked him during his sentencing hearing why he picked me, he said because ‘it was convenient.’ I had to walk in front of his house every day.”
Curtis said other victims of Holley in Alamogordo had mentioned to him that a mysterious man from El Paso traveled to Alamogordo to photograph Holley’s victims. “I don’t remember that, but others said they did,” Curtis said.
Although their experiences with Holley were separated by time and distance, the lives of Saviano and Curtis intersected before the Boston Globe embarked on its investigation.
“I tracked down (Curtis) in mid-December of 1992, after seeing a small story in the Boston Globe about the Holley victims in New Mexico going public with their allegations,” Saviano said.
“(Curtis) inspired me to go public and set the record straight that the problems with Holley began in Massachusetts in the early 1960s. They did not begin in New Mexico in the 1970s.”
Saviano settled a lawsuit against Holley in 1996 for $12,500. He also founded the New England chapter of SNAP, or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an advocacy organization for victims.
Holly served in several parishes in Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Massachusetts before justice caught up with him. He was a priest in various El Paso parishes, including St. Raphael, Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of the Valley. His service in New Mexico, in addition to Alamogordo, extended to the South Valley in Albuquerque.
Saviano said he, too, was 11 years old in East Douglas, Mass., when Holley abused him. The abuse involved Holley showing Saviano and others pornography and non-consensual sexual acts.
Actor Neal Huff portrays Saviano in the movie “Spotlight.” It also stars Mark Ruffalo, Micheal Keaton, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber. The movie is directed by Thomas McCarthy and written by McCarthy and Josh Singer.
“I first met with the Boston Globe Spotlight team on August 9, 2001,” Saviano said. “I took them a box full of documents to call to their attention numerous cases about clergy abuse that the Catholic Church was ignoring. It was about a month before the 9/11 attacks.”
Saviano said he was disappointed at first because the Boston Globe did not report anything. “I learned later that the reporters were all tied up with the coverage of 9/11,” he said.
As an adult, Curtis went on to become a lawyer, and worked arduously to track down Holley’s victims for a legal case. His efforts resulted in a rare criminal prosecution of a priest in New Mexico.
In 1993, an Otero County grand jury indicted Holley on five counts of aggravated sodomy, two counts of sodomy and one count of sexual assault, which occurred between 1972 and 1975 while at St. Jude’s Mission in Alamogordo.
Holley, whom the church had sent to a treatment facility for pedophilia, pleaded guilty to abusing eight boys in Alamogordo. He was sentenced to 275 years in prison, and died in his cell in 2008 after serving 15 years of the sentence.
A parole board granted Holley parole in 2004, Curtis said, without notifying the victims as required by law. “I complained to (New Mexico) Gov. Bill Richardson, who reversed the parole and fired the head of the parole board.”
Saviano and Curtis said the Catholic Church merely transferred Holley to other parishes whenever they received complaints of abuse by the priest.
The Boston Globe discovered in its investigation that this was a widespread pattern throughout the church in its dealings with sexual abuse complaints involving other Catholic clergy.
The Catholic Church also sent Holley to several treatment centers, including Seton Psychiatric Institute in Baltimore and the Servants of the Paraclete in Jemez Springs, N.M., without any apparent change in his sexual misconduct during his 30 years as a priest, according to court records.
In Texas, Holley served as a priest at Sacred Heart in McCamey and as a visiting priest in Garden City. He was a chaplain at St. Anthony Hospital in Denver, and was forced to retire as the complaints continued, Curtis said.
Holley, who was ordained in 1958, had served as a priest in several Massachusetts parishes during the 1960s: St. Philip’s in Grafton, St. Denis in East Douglas, St. Mary’s of the Hills in Boylston, Our Lady of Fatima in Worcester and St. Anne’s in Southboro.
“Holley used ‘card tricks’ to enthrall boys before he abused them,” Saviano said.
Other complaints against the El Paso Catholic Diocese involving Holley and other priests culminated in legal settlements. Brother Sammy Martinez, former principal of Cathedral High School, was among the clergy accused of molesting adolescents in El Paso.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is not discouraging members from seeing the movie.
“The only concerns of the conference are that people recognize that the painful events depicted in the film don’t reflect the status quo, both in terms of the screening and educational measures the church has in place to protect children and our response to victims and perpetrators of abuse,” said Don Clemmer, a spokesman for the conference.
“Dioceses have victim assistance coordinators whose job it is to accompany people who’ve been harmed by the church in their healing process. We have let dioceses know that they should make their victim assistance coordinators easy for members of the public to find and contact,” Clemmer said.
David F. Pierre, author and blogger for TheMediaReport.com, is a dogged detractor of the movie and the Boston Globe’s coverage.
“For many years before 2002, the Boston Globe had the reputation as being the most anti-Catholic newspaper in the country. The Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ investigation was simply the culmination of a long ideological crusade against the Church,” Pierre said in an email.
“The film’s implication that the church has not already responded forcefully to this issue is simply false. The numerous proactive measures that the church has implemented in the past two decades are unparalleled, and the church may be the safest environment for children today.”
El Paso lawyer Clark Harmonson, who has represented victims of clergy abuse, said abuse exists beyond the Catholic Church.
“This is a universal problem. Wherever there are children – churches of all faiths, schools, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts – unfortunately, we can also find predators,” Harmonson said. “The movie was a great idea. The more people shine a light on this, the better it is for the victims.”
Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at 546-6140; [email protected]; @eptimesdiana on Twitter.