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Phil Saviano (1952–2021), clergy abuse survivor featured in “Spotlight”

by Linnea Crowther

Phil Saviano was a survivor of childhood clergy abuse whose work to help other survivors and uncover predatory behavior in the church was featured in the Oscar-winning 2015 film “Spotlight.”

Advocating for the abused

Saviano was sexually abused by a priest at St. Denis Catholic Church in Douglas. It wasn’t until decades later that he realized he hadn’t been alone and became determined to help other survivors and work toward preventing further abuse. Saviano began researching sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, uncovering evidence that priests with a record of abuse were simply sent to other parishes rather than punished and removed from the priesthood. He also founded a New England chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

Saviano went to the Boston Globe to tell his story; the newspaper initially declined to publish it but later used it as the bedrock of a major investigative project. The Spotlight report won the Globe a Pulitzer Prize as a team of reporters dug into decades of clergy abuse and coverups. The Globe’s report led to a new awareness of clergy abuse, including broader support for victims of that abuse. The same year the report was published, Cardinal Bernard Law admitted that abusive priests in the Boston area had been reassigned with little effort to put a stop to abuse. The movie detailing the investigation, “Spotlight,” won Best Picture at the Academy Awards and featured actor Neal Huff as Saviano; the actor and the activist he portrayed became friends.


Notable quote

“Finally, victims are being first of all believed. And they’re being respected instead of ridiculed and criticized. Most of all, they’re seeing there is power in joining together and speaking out, and you can have results. Laws are being changed, [attorneys general] have perked up their ears around the country. These are changes that victims, myself included, could only have dreamed of.” —Saviano in a 2002 interview for the Boston Globe

Tributes to Phil Saviano

Full obituary: The New York Times

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