Phil Saviano, victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest during his childhood in Massachusetts, died this Sunday at the age of 69 as a result of gallbladder cancer. Converted into an activist against the abuses of the Catholic clergy, Saviano was the main source of the investigation that the newspaper The Boston Globe made on decades of pedophilia within the Catholic Church of Massachusetts and, by extension, of the USA. The journalistic investigation was adapted to the cinema in 2015 in the film Spotlight —Known in Latin America as On the front page-, in which the character of Saviano, played by Neal Huff, takes on a special role. The investigation unit of the Globe, the nation’s oldest, won a Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2003 and Spotlight, two Oscars for best film and best screenplay.
In 1992, when he was 40 years old and was almost on the verge of death from AIDS, Saviano read a brief in the same newspaper to which he would shortly after confess his ordeal. The information referred to the arrest of a Catholic priest, David A. Holley, for molesting boys in a New Mexico parish in the 1970s. Saviano recalled going to confession to that parish priest in the church in East Douglas, Massachusetts, in the early 1960s, when he was 11 years old. Holley forced him to perform sexual acts. The horror continued for a year and a half, until the clergyman left the parish. Holley died in a New Mexico prison in 2008, while serving a 275-year sentence for sexually abusing eight children.
“It was a revealing moment that changed my life,” Saviano later told the British newspaper. Daily Mail. “I suddenly realized how naive I had been to think that it had only done this to me.” “My gift to the world was not being afraid to speak,” Saviano said in mid-November, in a brief telephone interview with the newspaper. The Guardian, when he was already receiving palliative care for his terminal illness.
The story of how dozens of priests of the American Catholic Church abused children with impunity for decades, thanks to the silence and cover-up of the curia, was also decisive for the Vatican to begin to tear the veil of silence that surrounded a known behavior, which it spread like an oil stain. Saviano’s revelations played a decisive role in the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law and resulted in millions in compensation for the victims.
Law died in Rome at the end of 2017 without ever having testified in front of an American court, despite showing that, between 1950 and 2002, a total of 10,667 people in the United States had accused 4,392 clergymen of sexual abuse of minors, which it was equivalent to more than 4% of the religious personnel. However, only 252 of them were convicted and 100 imprisoned. What the Catholic Church did in the United States is to close million-dollar agreements with the victims of abuse to avoid the courts, until paying more than 3,000 million dollars (almost 2,600 million euros) in compensation, which left dozens of dioceses bankrupt. .
In 1995, Saviano reached a financial agreement with the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, which amounted to only $ 5,700 net, after paying the attorneys’ fees. He declined further compensation because it would have forced him to remain silent about his trauma. He believed that the only reason he did not 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 step forward,” he said in 2009 to Globe, “But then I gave everything up for lost, my career, my health, my reputation.”
Soon after, Saviano received a new AIDS treatment that allowed him to recover. Determined not to be silent again, he became an activist, deepened his investigation into the abuses of Catholic clergy and dedicated all his efforts to the association Network of survivors of victims of priest abuse (SNAP, in its English acronym). Like Saviano, many other victims considered that the millionaire agreements have allowed sexual predators, and the Church as an institution, to escape the action of justice.
Saviano described himself as a “recovering Catholic” who never managed to overcome the trauma and loss of trust in the institution. With his faith broken, Saviano relied on politicians and prosecutors to bring violators to justice.