TELEGRAM & GAZETTE, Worcester,MA | April 21, 2005
By Kathleen Shaw, Telegram and Gazette Staff
The second day of the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI did not go well for Phil Saviano, a former East Douglas resident.
Vatican security guards confiscated his sign that identified him as a clergy abuse victim from Boston yesterday and asked him not display it inside St. Peter’s Square, he said. Mr. Saviano, a founder of the New England chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is in Rome this week speaking on behalf of clergy sexual abuse victims. He was conducting media interviews on Vatican property when the problems began, he said.
“They were polite. In fact, they said ‘Please don’t show that sign here,’ ” Mr. Saviano said. He came away from the experience feeling that “the Vatican remains a very dark and repressive place, at least on this issue.”
Mr. Saviano, who plans to return to Massachusetts tomorrow night, said he left his hotel for St. Peter’s Square about 12:30 p.m. Rome time yesterday to see if he could speak to European news media about the clergy sexual abuse issue.
He wore around his neck a 5-inch-by-7-inch grammar school photo of himself at the age he said he was sexually abused by the Rev. David A. Holley at St. Denis parish, East Douglas. Rev. Holley, still a priest of the Worcester Diocese, is serving a 275-year prison term in New Mexico after pleading guilty to sexual abusing several boys in that state.
Under the photo, he wrote SNAP and followed it with “Our greatest strength is the light of truth.” Another sheet of green poster paper said, “Boston Clergy Abuse Survivor” and he included a copy of an Italian newspaper story written about him in Corriere della Sera, Milan, in 2002.
“I thought that this would help me connect with the Italian media who might be there, and also give me a bit of credibility since I had already been given a feature story in an Italian paper,” he said.
“Mr. Saviano said he stood outside the barrier separating St. Peter’s Square from a public street, but on the same side where television cameras were set up on Via del Sant’ Uffizio.
The problems started when a man from Switzerland walked over to speak to him.
“He was from some sort of human rights group,” Mr. Saviano said. The man attempted to give him a sheet of paper with his message and Web address.
“Two security guards come over and told him he could not pass out any fliers there,” Mr. Saviano said. “Very quickly, two other guards came up in a golf cart type of vehicle and he was asked to move to the outside of the fence, where I was,” Mr. Saviano said. The guards were from the Vatican and not Rome police, he said.
Mr. Saviano said he spoke with reporters from CNN, Australian television, Panama TV and an ABC TV affiliate from Houston, as well as with a woman from Vatican Radio. “She and I had a cordial conversation, even though she was effusive about the new pope. I told her that he needed to be a lot tougher on the enabling bishops than the last pope. She said he would be, and that if I gave him a chance that I’d be pleased with his performance,” he said.
“Shortly after that, three guards came over to me and asked who was the kid in the picture,” he said. They told him he could not hold up the Boston victim sign, and he could not show people the Italian newspaper story, he said.
“Then they said that if I wanted to hold a sign, I would have to go to the police station and get a permit for it,” he said. The guards were polite but firm, he said.
He took the photo from around his neck and put the photo, sign and newspaper story in his bag.
“As I was leaving, I gave two of the officers a copy of the newspaper story so they would have a better idea of who it was they were going to silence,” he said. A television news reporter from NBC affiliate in Chicago witnessed the interactions and pulled him aside for an interview, he said.
“On camera, I did not talk about the problem with the security guard. Her cameraman was reluctant to even film me at that point, probably because he was afraid the guards would start harassing him,” Mr. Saviano said. He focused his on camera comments on the abuse issue and the new pope, he said.
After this interview, he was heading back to the subway stop and began walking diagonally across St. Peter’s Square. He stopped to take a photo of the fountain. “At that point, two more guards descended upon me and demanded that I let them search my bags,” he said.
Mr. Saviano had with him a briefcase on a shoulder strap and a small canvas gym bag with his camera. “They were searching for the green ‘Boston Clergy Abuse Victim’ sign and when they found it they confiscated it,” he said.