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Phil Saviano, Survivor of Clergy Sex Abuse, Dies at 69

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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.

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