Philip James Saviano
June 23, 1952 – November 28, 2021
In the Media
Some lovely tributes to Phil.
Opinion, National Catholic Reporter
“Abuse survivor Phil Saviano said something profound by having a Catholic funeral”
Abuse survivor Phil Saviano said something profound by having a Catholic funeral
Almost 20 years ago, clergy abuse survivor Phil Saviano told the first Voice of the Faithful conference: “I am not faithful.” He said the repeated assaults he suffered from Fr. David Holley had led to losing his faith before he even went through puberty.
Yet, on Dec. 3, Saviano was buried in a rural cemetery of the Diocese of Worcester, after a funeral Mass at St. Denis Catholic Church in Douglas, Massachusetts.
It was the very church where Saviano had been sexually assaulted repeatedly as a boy by Holley. A familiar photo shows Phil in front of St. Denis – the church and the statue – in the late 1990s, wearing a Recovering Catholic T-shirt. What are we to make of Phil Saviano’s provocative final gesture?
Phil’s funeral Mass (the video is available here) was nothing like the healing Masses and ceremonies of atonement that have become customary in the fourth decade of our ongoing abuse “crisis.” Many survivors bravely attended, as well as four members of the original Boston Globe “Spotlight” team that rocked the U.S. church with their landmark reporting on clergy abuse throughout 2002.
The Mass wasn’t conveniently detached, in the manner of episcopal apologies. Phil chose four eulogists. Two were survivors: David Clohessy, formerly of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and Susan Pavlak of the Gilead Project. Phil’s brother Jim spoke beautifully about the abuse crisis and his brother’s vindication and legacy. As Phil’s fellow board member at BishopAccountability.org, I was the fourth speaker.
Phil picked Fr. Ron Coyne from Transfiguration Parish in the Boston Archdiocese as celebrant. Coyne had visited Phil twice in hospice and had hosted Phil, Susan and me for a clergy abuse panel at his old parish, St. Anne’s in Hyde Park. As an outsider, Coyne was free to engage bluntly and directly with clergy abuse in the prayers of the faithful and his homily; the Mass and music were unusually dignified and traditional.
By coming home to the parish church where he had been abused, Phil Saviano seemed to take possession of the place. There was an astonishing open-mindedness about the gesture and a usefulness too. Often, we lose sight of the Catholicity of the abuse crisis. Real improvements always seem to come from the outside – statute of limitations reform, reports of attorneys general, prosecutions and lawsuits – whereas change within the church often feels sullen and forced.
We forget that the abuse didn’t just happen to occur opportunistically in Catholic situations, but was done in the intimacy of confession, exploited the centrality of the Eucharist, and was woven into our Catholic lives and beliefs. By choosing a funeral Mass, Phil brought his abuse and Catholicism together in a demanding and potentially fruitful way. He shook things up.
If Phil Saviano can come back to the church where he was abused, surely Bishop Robert McManus can release a list and full accounting of the credibly accused Worcester priests, both diocesan and religious. McManus is one of the few bishops in the United States not to have taken this necessary step, and the only one in New England. Cardinal Sean O’Malley still hasn’t included religious order priests and externs in his Boston list, 10 years after it first appeared. Real transparency like this would be much better than episcopal lip service paid to Phil Saviano’s important contributions.
Phil’s funeral Mass could also provide an opening for St. Denis Parish. Phil was a uniquely effective activist, and a steady stream of reporters has visited St. Denis over the years as a result. If this has seemed a burden, perhaps it’s time for Phil Saviano to be accepted as the parish’s favorite son. He wasn’t the only victim of Holley, and another credibly accused priest, Fr. Edward Lettic, worked at St. Denis and left suddenly too.
Every parish has an abuse history, and no parish that I know has confronted theirs as beautifully as St. Denis did on Friday. I have a dream that every parish in the United States will account for its abuse history on the parish website and do real outreach to survivors.
Sadly, survivors of Catholic clergy abuse are very often traumatized twice — by their abuser and by the bishop or religious superior in charge of the offender. Pastoral programs in the dioceses can seem calibrated to shunt survivors away from obtaining justice in the courts. Yet survivors have spiritual lives, and many still experience the pull of Catholicism, as well as an aversion to it. Phil Saviano’s experience is an example. As he explained in his 2002 Voice of the Faithful speech, the abuse inflicted by Holley and the way the abuse was ignored in confession and by the diocese separated Phil from his childhood faith and made him a “spiritual drifter.”
It’s not true, as Coyne said in his homily, that Phil chose “to remain Catholic.” He traveled long and far from the terrible experiences of his abuse as a child. But I do believe, as Coyne also said, that Phil was consoled on his deathbed when he took Communion with his brother Jim and sister-in-law Cynthia, and when he received the sacrament of the sick. Phil and his “amazing” brother — Phil’s word — had become very close during his last illness.
Phil Saviano was certainly skeptical of religion and a deeply inquisitive person. He was also very open to experience. When he traveled in Mexico and Eastern Europe, he often visited churches and synagogues, and in his business, Viva Oaxaca Folk Art, he represented many Oaxacan artists who were fundamentally religious artists. He was open and curious about my religious beliefs and Susan Pavlak’s, and the survivors whom Phil helped were in various places when it came to their religious faith.
Perhaps Phil Saviano’s choice of a Catholic funeral Mass will encourage a broader engagement with the spiritual life of clergy abuse survivors in all their diversity. I was struck by the power of the Mass on Dec. 3. It afforded Phil a strong context for opening conversations and addressing issues that are almost always ignored in Catholic Masses. Prayers of the faithful hardly ever mention abuse. His courage in making this surprising choice, and survivors’ willingness to go to a very uncomfortable place on his behalf, could have real influence, if NCR readers and others take the time to view the Mass online.
Phil loved the Day of the Dead and the art associated with it. One year, he sent his friends photographs and videos of the parades and fireworks, and the ceremonies for the ancestors in the candlelit graveyards of Oaxaca.
I believe this is a key to Phil’s spirituality and to the decisions he made at the end of his life. He told me that he was glad that the St. Denis Cemetery would be his final resting place, because his family was there. The Mumford River, where he swam and fished as a boy, flows at the bottom of the cemetery hill. I think he worked back, in his careful and imaginative way, from the cemetery, through the woods where he played as a child, to nearby St. Denis Church, where his funeral took place.
Katharine Q. Seelye
New York Times
“He played a pivotal role in helping The Boston Globe uncover the widespread scandal in the Catholic Church and was portrayed in the movie ‘Spotlight.'”
Phil Saviano, Survivor of Clergy Sex Abuse, Dies at 69
He played a pivotal role in helping The Boston Globe uncover the widespread scandal in the Catholic Church and was portrayed in the movie “Spotlight.”
Phil Saviano carried a terrible secret for much of his life — that in the early 1960s, when he was 11, he was sexually molested by his parish priest in Massachusetts.
Nearly 30 years later, suffering from AIDS and believing he would soon die, he decided to go public about the abuse and disclosed his experience to The Boston Globe. As it happened, Mr. Saviano lived, and he went on to play a pivotal role in bringing to light the widespread pedophile priest scandal coursing through the Roman Catholic Church.
He provided key information and guidance for a series of articles by The Globe’s Spotlight team, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003. And his role was dramatized in the Academy Award-winning 2015 movie “Spotlight,” which showed how the church had hidden its crimes and how The Globe had uncovered them.
Mr. Saviano died on Sunday in Douglas, Mass., at the home of his brother, Jim. He was 69.
Jim Saviano said that his brother had been in failing health for some time. He underwent heart bypass surgery this year, then had a stroke and was diagnosed with aggressive gall bladder cancer.
A relentless and determined activist, Phil Saviano documented the actions of dozens of pedophile priests in the Boston area and coaxed other survivors to go public with their stories. He helped educate the Spotlight team about how priests had groomed their victims for eventual seduction and how the church had knowingly shuttled rogue priests to different parishes, where they often went on to abuse other children.
“Think of the enormity of what the church had been hiding for so long,” Walter V. Robinson, the former editor of the Spotlight team, said in an interview for this obituary in September. “That was a lot of combustible material, and it was Phil more than anyone else who set it ablaze.”
As a boy, Mr. Saviano attended St. Denis Church in Douglas, Mass., in the Diocese of Worcester, west of Boston. There, the Rev. David A. Holley ingratiated himself with Phil and other boys with jokes and card tricks.
At one point, the priest used a deck of cards with pornographic images. He began using cards with increasingly graphic pictures and one day exposed himself to the boys.
“I was forced to masturbate him and forced to give him oral sex,” Mr. Saviano said in a series of interviews for this obituary in September.
In 1992, almost three decades after the abuse, Mr. Saviano saw a newspaper article saying that Father Holley had been sued in New Mexico for sexually molesting other boys. Mr. Saviano thought that he and his friends had been the only victims. In early 1993, when he believed he was dying of AIDS, Mr. Saviano told The Globe that the priest had forced him and two of his friends to have repeated sexual contact with him.
“Being an AIDS patient freed me up to have the courage to do something I might not have done,” he told The Times. “I was dying. I was broke. My reputation in the eyes of many was already in tatters because I was a gay man with AIDS, and we were pariahs back then. I saw this as a way to have an impact, to do some good on my way out.”
After going public, Mr. Saviano asked officials at the Worcester Diocese to pay his expenses for therapy. When they refused, he sued the diocese. He learned from evidence obtained in the early stages of the case that seven bishops in four states had known that Father Holley, whom the church had sent secretly to four different church-run treatment centers, was a serial child molester. (Father Holley was sentenced to up to 275 years in prison in 1993 in New Mexico and died at 80 in prison in 2008.)
Church officials offered a modest sum to Mr. Saviano to settle the case on the condition that he sign a confidentiality agreement, as church officials across the country had done with many other survivors. Mr. Saviano refused.
“I said I’m not going to my grave with that secret,” he told The Times. “That would make me no better than the bishops.”
The church ended up giving him a $12,500 settlement and dropped its demand that he sign a nondisclosure agreement. “I think they figured I wasn’t going to be around much longer,” he said.
But by then, powerful new anti-AIDS treatments had been developed, and Mr. Saviano began to recover. He was one of the few who settled a clergy-related sex abuse lawsuit and retained the ability to talk about it.
With that freedom, he connected with other survivors and founded the New England chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a national group, in 1997. He documented their stories, tracked problem priests and collected statistics. Armed with this material, he again approached The Globe, in 1998. But he was met with indifference.
“Phil had for years been viewed as a bit of a conspiracy theorist,” Mr. Robinson, the former Spotlight editor, said. “He had this story that no reporter would believe — that the Catholic Church was engaged in an international criminal conspiracy to cover up the crimes of thousands of priests.”
Three years later, when Martin Baron, the new editor of The Globe, pushed for an investigation into systemic sexual abuse in the church, the Spotlight team circled back to Mr. Saviano.
“We were quite desperately thrashing about trying to find out stuff,” Mr. Robinson said, “when someone said, ‘Phil might know something.’”
Mr. Saviano arrived in the newsroom with a box of documents and talked with the team for four hours. The scene was recreated in the movie “Spotlight,” in which Mr. Saviano is portrayed by the actor Neal Huff.
In that box was a CD with documents from clergy-abuse lawsuits from around the country — detailed documents that Mike Rezendes, a reporter who was part of the Spotlight team, said in an interview were foundational to the team’s understanding of how the church had covered up so many cases of abuse.
“I was just blown away,” Mr. Rezendes said. Mr. Saviano also told the team his personal story of how he had been molested. “When Phil left,” Mr. Rezendes said, “we were simmering with rage and determined to get to the bottom of what happened.”
Mr. Saviano also met with the film’s screenwriter, Josh Singer, reviewed the script and offered pages of suggestions. Some, like the concept of grooming, made it into the film, as did Mr. Saviano’s warning that the abuse was taking place not just in Boston but also across the country.
By 2003, Massachusetts authorities said that as many as 1,000 children had been sexually abused by 250 priests in the Boston archdiocese over 40 years, and that Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the archbishop of Boston, had known of the problem and had covered it up. Cardinal Law was forced to resign in 2002, leaving the archdiocese facing 500 lawsuits and $100 million in damage claims. (He died in 2017.)
Philip James Saviano was born on June 23, 1952, in Worcester, the third of four boys. His mother, Mary (Bombara) Saviano, was a secretary. His father, Pasquale Saviano, was an electrician.
In addition to his brother Jim, he is survived by two other brothers, John and Victor.
Phil graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 1975 with a degree in zoology. He enrolled at Boston University to study occupational therapy but changed his mind and earned his master’s degree there in communications in 1979.
He was working in public relations when he discovered he was H.I.V. positive. His mother died in 1976, and he had never told her or his father that he was gay or that he had been abused.
When he finally told his father about his past, in 1993, and that he was going to talk to The Globe, his father was furious.
“He couldn’t understand why in the world I would want to do that,” Mr. Saviano said. For nearly a decade, he and his father were at a standoff over the issue. Then their parish, St. Denis, printed a message in its church bulletin urging people to come forward if they had been abused. His father sent him the bulletin.
“I took that as an opening,” Mr. Saviano said. “I called him up and thanked him, and he said, ‘I realize you’ve been right about this all these years, and I’m proud of you.’”
Recalling the moment, Mr. Saviano started to cry. “That meant so much to me,” he said, as did his father’s next words: “Give ’em hell.”
Mr. Saviano planned his memorial service to be held at St. Denis, the same place where he had been abused. “He wanted to make a statement to the Vatican,” his brother Jim said. “He said, ‘I want them to understand that they haven’t knocked me down.’”
Katharine Q. “Kit” Seelye is a Times obituary writer. She was previously the paper’s New England bureau chief, based in Boston. She worked in The Times’s Washington bureau for 12 years, has covered six presidential campaigns and pioneered The Times’s online coverage of politics. @kseelye
“Rejecting a confidentiality agreement, he inspired others to tell their stories”
Phil Saviano, clergy abuse victim who refused to stay silent, dies at 69
Rejecting a confidentiality agreement, he inspired others to tell their stories
Phil Saviano was near death from AIDS three decades ago and thousands of dollars in debt when the Worcester Diocese tried to silence him with a settlement that would have prevented him from publicly revealing that he had been sexually abused by a priest when he was a boy.
“I just couldn’t agree to it,” Mr. Saviano told the Globe in 1995. “I knew if I did I would just be contributing to their campaign to look away and shut everybody up.”
By refusing to sign a confidentiality agreement, he received a smaller settlement that kept him in financial peril. But his principled stand became a landmark moment in victims’ efforts to expose the Catholic Church’s worldwide history of covering up the abuse of children.
Mr. Saviano, whose personal story and precise documentation of priests who assaulted children helped inform The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, was 69 when he died Sunday at his brother’s home in Douglas.
Along with emotionally surviving the sexual abuse inflicted on him, he had lived for years with an HIV diagnosis, a kidney transplant, and more recently gallbladder cancer that spread to the liver.
Through it all he became one of the most internationally prominent voices among victims seeking justice, even traveling to Rome in 2019 to meet with Vatican officials before they met in a conference about clergy sex abuse.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that Phil’s impact has been global,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, codirector of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks allegations against priests.
“He was also a man who triumphed,” she said. “He was a true survivor, and I think through his story he gave other victims a blueprint for how to turn this trauma into something empowering.”
Working first with church documents about his own case that he obtained through his court actions, Mr. Saviano became a meticulous keeper of records as he listened to the stories of countless victims who sought his help and valued his counsel.
“I quickly became a repository of horror stories, offering support and advice to victims calling from all over the country,” he said in a 2002 speech.
The first misdeeds he publicized were those of the Rev. David Holley, who had sexually assaulted him in St. Denis Church in Douglas, a small town south of Worcester.
By reaching out to reporters and to organizations that also were gathering information, and by founding the New England Chapter of SNAP — the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — Mr. Saviano helped set off what became a flood of public accusations throughout the state, across the country, and around the world.
“In a true sense, that information explosion can be traced back to Phil, and Phil’s case, and Phil’s experience as a little 11-year-old boy in a tiny Massachusetts town,” said Terence McKiernan, founder and codirector of BishopAccountability.org.
“Phil’s experience isn’t just an individual experience or a Massachusetts experience,” McKiernan said. “It has become a universal experience.”
But when Mr. Saviano first went public in 1992, he thought he might soon die.
“If I had not been dying of AIDS, I would not have had the courage to come forward, but at that point my career was over, I was on my way out physically, my reputation was shot in the eyes of many people, and I didn’t have a lot to lose,” he recalled in a 2009 Globe interview. “This was a final opportunity to effect some change and address this thing that happened to me when I was a kid.”
When the advent of protease inhibitors to treat HIV/AIDS prolonged Mr. Saviano’s life, he kept speaking out until the end through a series of health issues.
Not least among them was a crisis on that night in 2016 when “Spotlight,” the movie based on the Globe’s clergy sex abuse coverage, won the Academy Award for best picture.
In Los Angeles for the ceremony, Mr. Saviano accidently injured himself while administering medication in a shot to his abdomen. Bleeding internally, he went to a hospital, where a doctor thought his life was ebbing away.
“The doctor said, ‘I have to check you in,’ and Phil said, ‘I have to go to this show. We have to show that a survivor is there, and I’m going to be there one way or another,’ ” recalled the singer Judy Collins, a longtime friend who was performing elsewhere in Los Angeles that night.
When the best picture was announced, Mr. Saviano joined the film’s director, producers, actors, and Globe reporter Michael Rezendes on stage — more than 50 years after those frightening childhood encounters he had endured in the St. Denis Church basement.
Once again, he had lived to ensure that victims were recognized, though he hastened to the hospital moments after sharing the Oscar spotlight.
“Phil is a real, real survivor. That’s his genius,” said the actor Neal Huff, who was with him at the Academy Awards and portrayed Mr. Saviano in the film. “He’s one of the greats of our time. He truly is.”
Philip James Saviano was born on June 23, 1952, a son of Pasquale Saviano, an electrician, and Mary Bombara Saviano, who had worked as a secretary before raising the couple’s four sons.
Growing up on a dead-end street in Douglas, the boys were walking distance from a river where they went fishing and a pond for skating in the winter.
“We were all very much nature’s children,” said Mr. Saviano’s older brother Jim, who still lives in Douglas. “My parents had no fear of us going into the woods and coming back after dark.”
Young Phil was a paperboy, which brought him into regular contact with Holley. Those early terrifying experiences are highlighted in a tentative title for Mr. Saviano’s memoir, which he was working on even in his final days: “Spilling Secrets: From Newsboy to Spotlight.”
“I lost my faith before I’d even gone through puberty. For over a year, I struggled with a priest who cornered me every chance he got,” Mr. Saviano wrote in remarks he prepared for a searing, healing speech he delivered in Boston in 2002 at the first national convention of the Voice of the Faithful.
“There are things that I remember even today — the coolness of the dark church basement; the smell of his sickly, sweet cologne; the beads of sweat on his forehead; the force of his hands around my skinny wrist,” he said.
“What I remember the most, however, is the confusion,” Mr. Saviano added. “I worried greatly that year, about sin and about forgiveness. How could I disobey God’s emissary on earth?”
It was only as an adult that he would break through the struggle and speak out, though among the traits and talents he brought to rising up against the church was his even demeanor.
“I don’t remember a moment of rancor or bitterness from Phil over all the tribulations that were visited upon him by the actions of the Catholic Church,” said Walter Robinson, who led the Globe Spotlight Team’s investigation.
Mr. Saviano also had an innate gift for public relations.
The third of four brothers, he graduated from Douglas Memorial High School, received a bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a master’s in communications from Boston University.
Hired as assistant public relations director at Faulkner Hospital, he soon became director. While coordinating fund-raising, he arranged for a 1982 benefit concert at Symphony Hall featuring Judy Collins.
Leaving Faulkner, he launched Special Delivery Productions, his concert promotion company, working on shows by artists such as Diahann Carroll, Barbara Cook, Laura Nyro, and Ella Fitzgerald, whom he once helped back to a chair on Symphony Hall’s stage in 1985 after she was treated for an ankle injury she suffered in a tumble early in the performance.
Among those whose concerts he promoted, Collins was Mr. Saviano’s closest friend. “He’s so special to me,” she said by phone in October.
“He was a family member. There’s no other way to put it,” Collins said. “We have had so many things in our friendship, so many wonderful talks, and so many triumphs. He was around for a lot of the good things and bad things in my life.”
That included when her son, Clark, died by suicide in 1992 and she went on to write the 2003 book “Sanity and Grace: A Journey of Suicide, Survival, and Strength.” Collins said she could speak with Mr. Saviano at times when it seemed impossible to speak with anyone else.
“I’m honored to be able to speak for my friend,” she said of Mr. Saviano. “I’ve got a song called ‘Communion’ that’s absolutely based on Phil’s life. I will get it recorded someday.”
In August 2001, soon after the Globe’s then-new editor Martin Baron instructed the Spotlight Team to make investigating allegations against priests its top priority, Mr. Saviano visited the reporters to offer what he called “a graduate-level seminar in clergy abuse.”
“When he finished, there was a stunned silence in the room. I think we were all simmering with rage — there’s no other way to put it,” Rezendes recalled.
“He gave us a much-needed tutorial,” Robinson said. “I think until that moment, we didn’t have a sense that what we were looking at was in any way as big a scandal as it became.”
Mr. Saviano was “more than just an abuse survivor and advocate and inspirational figure,” said David Clohessy, former national director of SNAP.
Through countless conversations with survivors and the way he encouraged many of them to take on more significant public roles, Mr. Saviano played an incalculable role in the movement to combat clergy sex abuse.
“It’s really hard to even estimate not only the number of survivors he comforted, but the number of survivors he guided to become leaders in their own right, Clohessy said.
In addition to his brother Jim, Mr. Saviano leaves his brothers John of Douglas and Victor of Dorchester.
A funeral Mass will be said for Mr. Saviano but plans were not immediately available.
“He is a hero to our family,” Jim said.
Among Mr. Saviano’s close friends, one who became a de facto relative, was Susan Pavlak of Minnesota, who donated a kidney in 2009 to keep him alive.
“His persistence in pursuing the information, and his civility, has changed the face of the Catholic Church,” said Pavlak, who as a girl was molested by her high school religion teacher, a former nun.
“Phil was a symbol of healing and triumph for the survivor community that could not have been accomplished in a more mythic way, in my view,” she said. “Plus he earned it.”
A collector of Mexican folk art and an inveterate traveler, Mr. Saviano encouraged abuse victims — and everyone, really — to “find something that you enjoy, that brings joy to yourself, whether it’s music, cooking, gardening. I feel that we only go around once in life, and we should try to make the most of it.”
In a phone conversation earlier this month, he offered final words of advice to victims everywhere — to do as he did, to speak out.
“Let go of the silence,” he said. “It hurts nobody but yourself.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at [email protected]
Charles P. Pierce
“Phil Saviano Sunk His Teeth Into the Institutional Catholic Church and Never Let Go”
Phil Saviano Sunk His Teeth Into the Institutional Catholic Church and Never Let Go
The activist has died at age 69.
Phil Saviano never let go. From the time in the basement of St. Denis Church, when he was molested by a priest named David Holley, through the years of cover-ups and denials, through the belated—and ongoing—vindication of himself and thousands of other victims in the early 1990s, through a lifetime of deadly medical problems that began with an AIDS diagnosis in 1992 to the cancer that finally killed him over the weekend, Phil Saviano just would…not…let…go. He would not let go of the crimes coated with candle wax, their stench camouflaged by incense. He sunk his teeth into an institutional Roman Catholic Church that had turned into an international conspiracy to obstruct justice, and he hung on with the kind of strength of character that we little Catholic schoolchildren had been taught was the martyr’s true glory. The truth set him free, but it took its sweet goddamn time getting around to it. From the Boston Globe:
“If I had not been dying of AIDS, I would not have had the courage to come forward, but at that point my career was over, I was on my way out physically, my reputation was shot in the eyes of many people, and I didn’t have a lot to lose,” he recalled in a 2009 Globe interview. “This was a final opportunity to effect some change and address this thing that happened to me when I was a kid.” When the advent of protease inhibitors to treat HIV/AIDS prolonged Mr. Saviano’s life, he kept speaking out until the end through a series of health issues.”
By now, most people know Saviano’s story because it was so central to Spotlight, the Academy Award-winning account of how the Globe’s investigative unit finally ran the story to ground in the Archdiocese of Boston. (Neal Huff played Saviano in a couple of brilliant scenes.) It turns out that, at least for Saviano, even the movie’s triumph was a complicated business.
“In Los Angeles for the ceremony, Mr. Saviano accidently injured himself while administering medication in a shot to his abdomen. Bleeding internally, he went to a hospital, where a doctor thought his life was ebbing away. “The doctor said, ‘I have to check you in,’ and Phil said, ‘I have to go to this show. We have to show that a survivor is there, and I’m going to be there one way or another,’ ” recalled the singer Judy Collins, a longtime friend who was performing elsewhere in Los Angeles that night.”
“When the best picture was announced, Mr. Saviano joined the film’s director, producers, actors, and Globe reporter Michael Rezendes on stage—more than 50 years after those frightening childhood encounters he had endured in the St. Denis Church basement.”
The movie was quite honest about how every major institution in the city, which definitely included the Globe, blew off Saviano and his organization for at least a decade. At that time, the Globe had a devout Catholic editor and, when Bernard Cardinal Law called down the power of God on the newspaper—this actually happened—the editor decreed that there would be no more stories about accused priests. Law had scared it off great work by reporter Allison Bass in 1992. My old friend Ande Zellman was the editor of the paper’s Sunday magazine at the time, and she ran a long story anyway about the crimes of Father James Porter in Fall River. The editor went completely crazy and ended up throwing a copy of the magazine at Ande. The story died at the newspaper until 2001. This is a little of what Phil Saviano was up against. He never let go.
(A later, groundbreaking piece on the scandal was written by Kristen Lombardi in the Boston Phoenix, who went long on the crimes of Father John Geoghan, and the cover-up thereof, in March of 2001, nine months before the Globe’s massive series ran. One of the movie script’s great flaws is that it mentions Lombardi’s work in the Phoenix in only one scene, and then as a punchline.)
In case you haven’t noticed, the conservative elements of the institutional Church, many of whom either actively participated in the cover-ups or attacked the people who revealed them, are feeling their oats again. This despite the fact that, even under Papa Francesco, the institutional Church hasn’t remotely atoned for the previous scandal. We have members of the Clan of the Red Beanie in open—and undeniably political—revolt. We have parish priests inveighing against vaccine mandates. (The applause is worse than the nonsense this crackpot is spouting from the pulpit.) We need a lot more Phil Savianos to save a lot of souls. And may perpetual light shine upon him.
Opinion, Boston Herald
“Phil Saviano knew the truth.He was a hero with an unstoppable voice.”
Phil Saviano knew the truth.
He was a hero with an unstoppable voice. He refused to be silenced. In the face of great institutional and political power — he spoke, sometimes yelled, and never gave up. No amount of pressure or hush money could stop him. Again and again, he spoke up — for other victims of child sexual abuse, for truth, transparency and justice.
I first met Phil almost 20 years ago, with the late Barbara Blaine, the founder of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP). As a fellow survivor, I was present at the same demonstration outside a church in Boston. And through the years, we would meet again at SNAP conferences, rallies and in legislative hallways across the country. He was deeply committed to other survivors. Some were uncomfortable with his relentless voice, but he didn’t mind. Even his notoriety via “Spotlight” was meaningless. He knew it was unimportant without real change.
From Boston to Rome, Phil knew — he had to keep talking.
Phil knew better than most about the enormous failures of the Catholic church, as well as other powerful organizations that have failed to protect children; the many that chose to cover up their failures rather than right unspeakable wrongs. He knew quite well the lengths the Catholic bishops, and their insurers, would go to stop legislation to reform the statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse claims.
Restrictive statutes of limitations benefit sexual predators and institutions that fail to protect children. They do not benefit children or the public. Short SOLs allow institutions to cover up abuse and further continue the practice of dangerous policies, procedures and responses to child sexual abuse.
According to the national think tank and my sister organization, CHILD USA, statute of limitations reform serves three compelling interests: 1. SOL reform identifies hidden child predators and the institutions that allowed the abuse to the public so children will not be abused in the future; 2. It shifts the cost of abuse from the victims and society to those that caused it; and 3. It educates the public about the prevalence and harm from child sex abuse to prevent future abuse.
There is a significant movement growing across the country to reform statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse. Many state legislatures are extending or eliminating the statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse. Others are reviving barred claims with age extensions with revival or window legislation. Window legislation opens a set time for victims who were previously barred from filing suit to have their day in court.
Given that the predator and institutional bad actors silence victims, it seems only fair to give them the time and voice stolen from them. Since 2002, 24 states, D.C. and Guam passed laws that revived expired civil SOLs. In addition, 10 states eliminated some civil SOLs. Thirty-seven states, the federal government and D.C. extended the civil SOLs. Given the effectiveness of window legislation, some states have enacted second and third windows; those include Delaware, Hawaii and California. This year, Kentucky, Arkansas, Nevada, Colorado, Louisiana and Maine have passed revival legislation.
Where is Massachusetts? Phil knew the answer.
Massachusetts law has two big problems when it comes to protecting children and honoring basic notions of justice.
irst, Massachusetts has the most archaic charitable immunity statute in the country; literally, it is the worst. Almost 80% of states have abolished the doctrine entirely, while a few others have modified or introduced caps on damages. Massachusetts has an offensively abysmal $20,000 cap on damages. I mean, why bother? That means no reasonable attorney will take the case, and charitable institutions can escape liability and continue their poor practices.
Secondly, Massachusetts law essentially protects institutions that harbor and conceal child sexual predators. Although the Legislature made progress in 2014 by extending the statute of limitations to age 53 with revival language, sadly, that revival only applies to individual perpetrators, thus allowing institutions, religious and otherwise, to continue their coverup and poor practices.
Phil was a tireless warrior in the fight for children and justice. Those who knew and loved him can likely still hear his voice — bellowing for transparency and accountability. Let’s hope our political leaders hear the same cry for truth.
Attorney Kathryn Robb of Lexington is the executive director of Child US Advocacy and a survivor of child sexual abuse.
“Phil Saviano always downplayed his courage in refusing to abide by the Catholic Church’s demand for confidentiality, insisting he only did so because he thought he was going to die soon. But his unflinching bravery gave hope and inspiration to survivors of sexual abuse everywhere.”
The unassuming, unflinching courage of Phil Saviano
In 1964, Phil Saviano was 11 years old when the pastor of St. Denis Church in Douglas, a predator with a Roman collar named David Holley, cornered him in a hallway near the sacristy.
As Holley sexually abused him, Saviano could hear muffled voices in the church, praying.
The abuse continued for a year, moving to the church basement, where Saviano could hear the groundskeeper cutting the grass outside.
Confused, afraid, and feeling he couldn’t tell anyone because they’d never believe him, that he’d be punished for accusing a priest of the unspeakable, he did what every good little Catholic boy did: he went to confession.
He knelt in the confessional booth, in the muffled darkness, and the priest slid back the cover to the small window, spilling a warm glow and a shock: Father Holley, the priest who had abused him, was sitting there waiting to hear his confession.
For a boy that age, in that place, at that time, it was soul-crushing.
When he gave that account of his ordeal, in interviews and speeches, including in 2002, it was revelatory — not just for the extent of the horrific crimes covered up by an institution and its leaders who were more concerned about saving face than saving souls, but for the bravery Saviano showed in telling, in the most intimate and humiliating detail, what was done to him.
Saviano, who died Sunday at the age of 69, will always be remembered and admired for saying no, for spurning the type of confidentiality agreements that Catholic leaders had used for so long to cover up the sexual abuse of minors —trading a little cash for a signature and silence. He empowered and became the local face of a survivors network that did so much to tear down the curtain that hid generations of abuse. He helped launch this newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the scandal, and was portrayed as a groundbreaking whistle-blower in an Oscar-winning film about it.
But one of the most striking things about Saviano was how humble and unassuming he was. He always downplayed his refusal to abide by the Catholic Church’s demand for confidentiality.
“If I had not been dying of AIDS, I would not have had the courage to come forward,” he told The Boston Globe in 2009.
But it always struck me that, facing his own mortality, it would have been easier for him to just take the money and keep quiet.
When Saviano told the Diocese of Worcester where to stick its confidentiality agreement, it was the mid-1990s. Back then, those abused by priests did not break their silence, enter the public square and find a large, empathetic, supportive community waiting to believe and comfort them.
Why, given how little time he thought he had left, submit himself to the questions and judgment and attacks on his character that were sure to follow?
Given what the Catholic Church preaches about the selflessness of Jesus Christ, it was supremely ironic that, like Christ but unlike some church leaders who claim to follow his way, Saviano thought of others more than himself. He lost his faith in organized religion but, as someone who suffered at the hands of those who grotesquely style themselves moral vanguards, gained a deep, abiding belief in the dignity of survivors, and gave voice to so many others who would not or could not speak out.
He was, after all, a professional communicator. More importantly, he was a thoroughly decent human being.
His mother’s people hailed from the former Czechoslovakia and during visits to Prague, Saviano became aware and an admirer of Jan Hus, a Catholic priest who dared to call out the corruption of his own leaders. For his trouble, Hus was burned at the stake in 1415, becoming a symbol of principled defiance.
There is a statue of Hus in Prague, and on that statue are the words which translate to “Truth Prevails.”
It could be Saviano’s epitaph.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]
The Washington Post
“After recovering from AIDS, he found a new sense of purpose as an activist.”
A Martínez & Sacha Pfeiffer
NPR news Morning Edition
A man who helped to expose the Catholic Church’s cover-up of clergy sex abuse has died. Phil Saviano was a childhood survivor of abuse and decades later went public with his story.
William J. Kole
AP, New England
Douglas man who was key clergy sex abuse whistleblower and survivor, dies at 69
Phil Saviano, key clergy sex abuse whistleblower, dies at 69
Phil Saviano, a clergy sex abuse survivor and whistleblower who played a pivotal role in exposing decades of predatory assaults by Roman Catholic priests in the United States, has died. He was 69.
Saviano’s story figured prominently in the 2015 Oscar-winning film “Spotlight” about The Boston Globe’s investigation that revealed how scores of priests molested children and got away with it because church leaders covered it up. He died on Sunday after a battle with gallbladder cancer, said his brother and caregiver, Jim Saviano.
In late October, Phil Saviano announced on his Facebook page that he was starting hospice care at his brother’s home in Douglas, Massachusetts, where he died.
“Things have been dicey the last few weeks,” he wrote, asking followers to “give a listen to Judy Collins singing ‘Bird On A Wire’ and think of me.”
Saviano played a central role in illuminating the scandal, which led to the resignation of Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law and church settlements with hundreds of victims.
The Globe’s 2002 series earned it the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003, and “Spotlight” won Academy Awards for best picture and best original screenplay. Actor Neal Huff played Saviano in the film.
“My gift to the world was not being afraid to speak out,” Saviano said in mid-November in a brief telephone interview with The Associated Press.
Born June 23, 1952, Saviano recalled going to confession as a young boy at St. Denis Church in tiny East Douglas, Massachusetts, in the 1960s and whispering his transgressions through a screen to the Rev. David Holley. The priest, he said, violated that sacred trust and forced the 11-year-old to perform sex acts. Holley died in a New Mexico prison in 2008 while serving a 275-year sentence for molesting eight boys.
“When we were kids, the priests never did anything wrong. You didn’t question them, same as the police,” brother Jim Saviano told the AP. “There were many barriers put in his way intentionally and otherwise by institutions and generational thinking. That didn’t stop him. That’s a certain kind of bravery that was unique.”
A self-described “recovering Catholic,” Saviano went on to establish the New England chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, an organization working to bring specific allegations of clergy sexual abuse to light.
His faith in the church shattered, Saviano instead leaned on politicians and prosecutors to bring offenders to justice.
“We’re putting our faith in legislators and prosecutors to solve this problem,” he told reporters in 2002.
“Phil was an essential source during the Spotlight Team’s reporting on the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, providing other critical sources, research materials and the names of several accused priests,” said Mike Rezendes, a member of the Globe team that brought the scandal to light and a current AP investigative reporter.
“He also shared his own heartbreaking story of abuse, imbuing us with the iron determination we needed to break this horrific story,” Rezendes said. “During our reporting, and over the last 20 years, I got to know Phil well and have never met anyone as brave, as compassionate or as savvy.”
Saviano earned degrees in zoology and communications from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Boston University and began working in hospital public relations. Later, he shifted to entertainment industry publicity and concert promotion, working closely with Collins, a lifelong friend and confidante, as well as Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme and other artists.
In 1991, he became seriously ill with AIDS and went public with his childhood abuse the following year, becoming one of the first survivors to come forward.
“Father Holley forced me and two of my friends to have repeated sexual contact with him,” Saviano said in an interview with the Globe — the first of many that would lead not only to criminal charges against the disgraced cleric but widespread prosecutions of others as the enormity of the scandal became evident.
By the early 2000s, Saviano was spending 10 hours a day on the phone with victims and journalists. He was an outspoken critic of the Vatican’s reluctance to deal decisively with the fallout from the scandal. In 2008, when Pope Benedict XVI hinted to U.S. bishops during a visit that they’d mishandled the church’s response, Saviano questioned the pontiff’s decision to follow his remarks with Masses in New York and Washington.
“If he was really serious about the issue, that Mass would not be held in New York. It would be held here in Boston,” he said.
In 2009, suffering kidney failure and unable to locate a match among family or friends, he found a donor after SNAP spread the word in a nationwide email to 8,000 clergy sex abuse survivors.
The abuse that came to light as a result of Saviano’s work prompted Cardinal Law, Boston’s highest-ranking churchman, to step down. The Globe’s reporting showed Law was aware of child molesters in the priesthood but covered up their crimes and failed to stop them, instead transferring them from parish to parish without alerting parents or police.
When the archbishop died in Rome in 2017, Saviano asked bluntly: “How is he going to explain this when he comes face to face with his maker?”
In 2019, at the Vatican for an abuse prevention summit called convened by Pope Francis, Saviano said he told summit organizers to release the names of abusive priests around the world along with their case files.
“Do it to launch a new era of transparency. Do it to break the code of silence. Do it out of respect for the victims of these men, and do it to help prevent these creeps from abusing any more children,” he said.
Although there was a hard edge to much of his life, Saviano enjoyed traveling extensively and developed a soft spot for Indigenous art. In 1999, he launched an e-commerce website, Viva Oaxaca Folk Art, showcasing handmade decorative pieces he purchased on trips to southern Mexico and resold to collectors across the U.S.
He is survived by three brothers, Jim Saviano of Douglas; John Saviano of Douglas; and Victor Saviano of Boston; two nieces; and two nephews. Funeral arrangements were incomplete.
‘His work saved lives’: Clergy abuse survivor Phil Saviano of Douglas lauded at funeral for courage
DOUGLAS — Phil Saviano was a clergy sex abuse survivor whose courage to go public and resolve to hold abusers and their enablers accountable inspired and strengthened survivors from around the world, his brother said at his funeral Mass on Friday.
Saviano, who died Sunday at age 69 after a battle with gallbladder cancer, was remembered at St. Denis Catholic Church, the very church where he was first sexually molested at age 11 in the 1960s by the now-deceased parish priest.
He “brought hope, dignity, strength and rebirth to many of those who have been abused,” Jim Saviano said during his eulogy.
Jim Saviano said he has read hundreds of emails to his brother from people around the world, most of whom are survivors of abuse, thanking him for giving them the guidance and courage to move past the abuse and lead productive and joyful lives.
Jim Saviano said his brother literally saved their lives.
“My brother Phil was wonderful man whose work saved lives and brought happiness and love to many who had only known despair,” he said. “And a man whose work influenced the Catholic Church to better itself, to change its behavior, hold abusers and their protectors accountable, and make protecting young innocent children once again one of its most important priorities.”
Phil Saviano’s story figured prominently in the 2015 Oscar-winning film “Spotlight” about The Boston Globe’s investigation that revealed how priests molested children and how church leaders covered up the abuse, moving abusive priests from parish to parish.
Saviano reached a $12,000 settlement in a civil lawsuit against the Worcester Diocese in which he refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
But Phil Saviano was dismissed as a “conspiracy theorist” when he first went to Globe reporters with evidence of sexual abuse in the Catholic church, his brother said in his eulogy.
Several years later, with Saviano’s help, the Globe’s 2002 series on the abuse earned it the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003 and led to the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law, the church’s leader in Boston.
While most people will remember Saviano for his efforts in exposing the ugly side of the church, he was so much more, said David Clohessy, the former director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Saviano often told Clohessy that he didn’t want to be remembered as “just a survivor.”
Saviano was a “Renaissance man who knew about and appreciated and loved art, and gardening, and travel, and music, and writing and everything else,” he said.
The service was led by the Rev. Ron Coyne, a friend of Saviano’s and himself someone was who has sometimes been an outspoken critic of the church.
While the abuse crisis drove many from the church, Saviano remained faithful, choosing change over abandonment, Coyne said.
“Phil’s choice to remain Catholic might be inexplicable to some,” Coyne said. “But it was his church and he was determined that it would become all it was intended to be.”
Saviano, Coyne said, “knew that no religion had captured God and that the church needed to be held accountable by those who were true disciples of Christ, and he counted himself among them.”
Telegram & Gazette
“Phil Saviano, Douglas native who blew whistle on clergy sex abuse, remembered as a ‘hero'”
BOSTON — Phil Saviano of Douglas was a hero who spoke the truth to power — a truth directed at the Roman Catholic Church, as Saviano shined a powerful spotlight on the priest sex-abuse scandal.
That was the central message delivered at a press conference held Monday morning outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston to honor Saviano, one day after his death at 69.
The cause of death was gallbladder cancer, according to Saviano’s brother, Jim Saviano.
A funeral service will be held 10 a.m. Friday at St. Denis Parish in Douglas, the same parish where Saviano said he was sexually abused at the age of 11 by the Rev. David Holley.
Holley died in a New Mexico prison in 2008 while serving a lengthy sentence for molesting eight boys.
In 1995, Saviano reached a $12,000 settlement in connection with a civil lawsuit he filed against the Worcester Diocese.
“Phil Saviano literally saved my life,” said Skip Shea, an Uxbridge resident who attended Monday’s press event.
Shea and Saviano’s lives are intertwined.
Both went public with their stories of being abused by priests; and each channeled their pain into screenplays that became movies.
Those creative ventures helped both men come to terms with their crises, while inspiring other victims of clergy sex abuse to go public with their grief.
Shea met Saviano after the Boston’s Globe’s reporting that broke open the priest sex-abuse scandal in the Boston Archdiocese, reporting that relied on documents and sources supplied by Saviano.
“I was black and white with my anger toward the church,” Shea said. “Phil helped me see it’s not that simple. It literally saved my life.”
The Globe’s reporting earned it a Pulitzer Prize and was the basis for “Spotlight,” the Academy Award-winning movie in 2015.
Shea’s film, “Trinity,” is based on a chance encounter at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Millbury. It was a moment when Shea unexpectedly bumped into the priest whom Shea said sexually abused him at St. Mary Parish in Uxbridge in the early 1970s.
The abuse happened, Shea said, when he was 11 years old.
As Shea sees it, Saviano was not only instrumental in uncovering the abuse hidden inside the walls of the Catholic Church. He did it with the perfect temperament to be the voice of the crisis.
“He could reach the general public, which was the most dangerous to the (Catholic) institution,” Shea said. “He spoke the truth in that tone. It was easy for everyone to hear.
“There is nobody around to replace that.”
Hero with lasting impact
Reached by phone, Jim Saviano, who watched over his brother at the end of his life, said the family regarded Phil as a hero who had a lasting impact.
“He lit a fuse that eventually erupted the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, the eruption is not big enough, and I’m not satisfied with the changes made,” Jim Saviano said. “There is much more work to do.”
Saviano’s impact went beyond being a whistleblower.
“Because he showed others who had been abused the way to shed the yoke on their shoulders and begin to lead a more productive and joyful life, that is equally as important, I think,” Jim Saviano said.
Garabedian remembers ‘great man’
Lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who represented numerous victims of priest sex abuse allegedly at the hands of the Boston Archdiocese, called Saviano a “great man” as he addressed those in attendance Monday outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
“His strength, determination, courage and inspiration will live on forever,” Garabedian said.
Holding one placard with the words “Phil Saviano Hero” and another with, “He Spoke Truth To Power,” Robert Hoatson said Saviano proved a cover-up of massive abuse inside the Catholic Church.
“He was nothing short of heroic,” said Hoatson, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse who is co-founder and president of Road to Recovery, Inc., a New Jersey-based non-profit that assists victims of sexual abuse and their families.
“(Phil Saviano’s) legacy for victims and survivors is silence is no longer an option. We have to speak out and yell out our message.”
Another admirer of Saviano in attendance Monday was Terence McKiernan, board member of BishopAccountability.org. Saviano served on the nonprofit’s board of directors for seven years.
As McKiernan sees it, Saviano made three core contributions.
The first is he established the New England Chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
Secondly, Saviano understood the value of legal documents to bring pressure on the Catholic Church.
And finally, Saviano came to terms with his suffering, and found other interests to feed his soul. One was a love for Mexican art that inspired Saviano to start a website, Viva Oaxaca Folk Art, that sold handmade pieces Saviano purchased on trips to southern Mexico.
“He had boundless passion,” McKiernan said. “I miss him terribly. His contributions will endure.”
Absent from Monday’s event was a representative from the Catholic Church, a development not lost on those who believe Phil Saviano was a beacon of truth.
“I’m not surprised (a church official wasn’t present),” Jim Saviano said. “It’s another strong signal of not coming to grips with their problems.”
Among the hundreds of emails Phil Saviano received in the final five months of his life, only one arrived from an official tied to the Catholic Church.
It was penned by a priest who Jim Saviano said had the “courage to recognize what Phil accomplished and thanked him for doing it.”
As for an email Jim Saviano sent nearly two weeks ago to Pope Francis requesting the Vatican recognize the work of his brother to publicly uncover clergy sex abuse, there hasn’t been a reply.
“You see what side of the coin (Pope Francis) is on. I have not gotten a response and don’t expect one.”
Contact Henry Schwan at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @henrytelegram
As It Happens, CBC Radio
“Phil Saviano, Catholic sex abuse whistleblower, remembered for having ‘a spine of steel'”
“Cardinal O’Malley praises courage of Phil Saviano and his fight to uncover clergy sexual abuse”
Cardinal O’Malley praises courage of Phil Saviano and his fight to uncover clergy sexual abuse
The leader of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston on Tuesday praised the courage of Phil Saviano, a clergy sexual abuse survivor who played a key role in bringing the global scandal to light and who died Sunday at the age of 69.
“We are very sorry to hear of the passing of Phil Saviano and are consoled to know that his brother, Jim, accompanied him during his illness,” said Cardinal Seán O’Malley in a statement. “Phil was a landmark voice of courage for survivors and played a significant role in uncovering the darkness of clergy sexual abuse in the life of the Church.”
O’Malley said the relentless advocacy of Saviano, whose personal story and precise documentation of perpetrator priests helped inform The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the abuse crisis, forced the church to reckon with its history of harming minors.
“Phil’s strident advocacy and his role in the investigative reporting of clergy abuse were important factors for the Church taking responsibility for the reprehensible harm inflicted on young people, to be held accountable for mandatory reporting to civil authorities, and to establish programs for awareness and prevention of abuse to children, young people and vulnerable adults,” O’Malley said.
O’Malley’s counterpart in the Worcester Diocese, Bishop Robert J. McManus, also marked Saviano’s passing in a separate statement Tuesday.
“As the family and friends of Phil Saviano gather to pray for the repose of his soul this week, I ask that all of us offer our prayers to God and remember him for his courage,” McManus said. “By not keeping silent about the abuse he endured from the former Father David Holley, he inspired other victims to come forward and find peace for themselves and justice for the harms that had been inflicted on innocent youth.”
Like O’Malley, McManus credited the efforts of Saviano and others for prompting the church to adopt reforms.
“Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Saviano and so many other victim survivors, the Catholic Church adopted policies to protect children and offer healing to past victims,” McManus said.
Saviano was near death from AIDS three decades ago and thousands of dollars in debt when the Worcester Diocese tried to silence him with a settlement that would have prevented him from publicly revealing that he had been sexually abused by a priest when he was a boy.
“I just couldn’t agree to it,” Saviano told the Globe in 1995. “I knew if I did, I would just be contributing to their campaign to look away and shut everybody up.”
By refusing to sign a confidentiality agreement, he received a smaller settlement that kept him in financial peril. But his principled stand became a landmark moment in victims’ efforts to expose the Catholic Church’s worldwide history of covering up the abuse of children.
Along with emotionally surviving the sexual abuse inflicted on him, he had lived for years with an HIV diagnosis, a kidney transplant, and more recently, gallbladder cancer that spread to the liver.
Through it all, he became one of the most internationally prominent voices among victims seeking justice, even traveling to Rome in 2019 to meet with Vatican officials before they convened a conference about clergy sex abuse.
“It’s not an exaggeration to say that Phil’s impact has been global,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, codirector of BishopAccountability.org, which tracks allegations against priests, in a recent interview.
“He was also a man who triumphed,” she said. “He was a true survivor, and I think through his story he gave other victims a blueprint for how to turn this trauma into something empowering.”
Travis Andersen can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.
“Phil Saviano, Catholic clergy abuse survivor and whistleblower, dies”
The Sun Chronicle
Attleboro, MA newspaper
“Our View: RIP Phil Saviano. You will always be a hero.”
Phil Saviano had many friends in the Attleboro area — too many.
Saviano, who died Nov. 28 of cancer at the age of 69, became one of the most prominent voices among victims of clergy abuse. His horrific personal story and precise documentation of the abuse he received helped make it clear that the Catholic Church covered up hundreds of cases of sexual abuse by priests.
In 1997, he founded a New England chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, a support group for the many victims of Catholic clergy abuse. And he received praise for being a valiant, eloquent and courageous champion who refused to be silenced.
The Attleboro area knows only too well the devastating impact of the molestation of children at the hands of priests and the coverup by the church’s hierarchy.
In 1990, victims of Father James Porter, a priest assigned to St. Mary’s Church in North Attleboro in the early 1960s, broke a nearly 30-year silence and told of the abuse they endured.
Porter, who died in 2005, was found guilty in 1993 of molesting 28 children in parishes in Fall River and New Bedford as well as North Attleboro. But he is widely suspected of molesting dozens more in North Attleboro alone.
Phil Saviano understood their pain.
In December 1992, he was at the lowest point of his life — 40 years old, out of work and dying of AIDS.
Leafing through The Boston Globe, he saw a small item that contained a familiar name.
A Catholic priest, David Holley, had been arrested for abusing boys in the 1970s at a church in New Mexico.
“It was a life-changing moment,” Saviano later told the British newspaper the Daily Mail. “It was the day all the bells went off for me. I suddenly saw how naive I had been in assuming he had only done this to me.”
Almost three decades earlier, beginning when Saviano was 11, he had been repeatedly molested by Holley at St. Denis Catholic Church in Douglas. The abuse went on for a year and a half, until Holley left the parish.
In 1995, he reached a financial settlement with the Diocese of Worcester that amounted to $5,700 after attorney fees, turning down a larger payout that would have required him to keep silent about his childhood trauma.
He believed the only reason he didn’t have to sign a confidentiality agreement was that no one expected him to live.
“If I had not been dying of AIDS, I would not have had the courage to come forward,” Saviano told The Globe in 2009, “but at that point my career was over, I was on my way out physically, my reputation was shot in the eyes of many people, and I didn’t have a lot to lose. This was a final opportunity to effect some change and address this thing that happened to me when I was a kid.”
Saviano became a central figure in a series of stories by a group of Boston Globe investigative reporters called the Spotlight team detailing predatory behavior by dozens of Boston-area priests, coupled with a concerted effort by top church officials to conceal their misdeeds.
The Globe won the Pulitzer Prize for its articles and formed the basis of the 2015 film “Spotlight,” which won Oscars for best picture and best original screenplay.
Saviano was on the Academy Awards stage that night when executive producer and co-writer Josh Singer called him a “true hero.”
We agree, and we believe many others in the Attleboro area — too many — must feel the same.
Abuse survivor, advocate for other survivors, dies at 69
MARÍA ANTONIA SÁNCHEZ-VALLEJO
“Muere Phil Saviano, el principal testigo que permitió destapar los abusos sexuales en la Iglesia católica de EE UU
America’s oldest Catholic newspaper
Abuse survivor who became outspoken advocate for other survivors dies at 69
Catholic News Agency
Phil Saviano, survivor of clerical abuse featured in ‘Spotlight,’ dies at 69
“Murió Phil Saviano, denunciante de la pederastia clerical en E.U
“Morre Phil Saviano, denunciante e sobrevivente de abusos sexuais do clero
Wednesday, December 1, 2021
Wake from 4PM – 8 PM at Mann & Rodgers Funeral Home, 44 Perkins Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
Thursday, December 2, 2021
Wake from 4PM — 8PM at Jackman Funeral Home, 7 Mechanic Street, Douglas, MA 01516
Friday, December 3, 2021
Funeral mass at 10AM at St Denis Church, 23 Manchaug Street, Douglas, MA 01516 followed by burial
Download a copy of our Tribute to Phil