SNAP mourns the loss of clergy sex abuse survivor and pioneer Phil Saviano
We are heartbroken at the loss of our dear friend, Phil Saviano, who passed away Sunday, November 28, 2021, at the home of his brother and caretaker Jim. A clergy sex abuse survivor and whistleblower who played an integral part in exposing sexual assaults against children by Roman Catholic priests in the Archdiocese of Boston, Phil was 69. There are not enough words to describe this terrible loss for both our movement and the world.
Phil’s story figured prominently in the 2015 film “Spotlight.” He was a key figure in bringing attention to the systemic abuse that led to the resignation of Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law and forever changed the public perception of the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal. With Phil's help, the Boston Globe’s 2002 series on cover-ups in the Archdiocese of Boston earned it the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2003. The movie based on the Globe's work, "Spotlight," won Academy Awards for best picture and best original screenplay in 2016. Actor Neal Huff played Phil in the movie.
Anyone who met Phil immediately recognized his gentleness and humility. He was a kind soul who helped provide a listening ear and shoulder to cry on as the founder of the New England SNAP chapter. He embraced the principles of seeking truth and justice as the means to bring about healing for survivors at a time when the scandal was still in its infancy.
“My gift to the world was not being afraid to speak out,” Phil said in mid-November in a brief telephone interview with The Associated Press. This gift, we firmly believe, helped tens of thousands of sexual abuse survivors gain the courage they needed to speak out for the first time. What Phil has given to victims and advocates is a purpose to take up the unfinished work and share the truth, to speak out about the injustice, and to help survivors heal.
“I had the opportunity to meet Phil at the first SNAP conference I ever attended,” said Zach Hiner, Executive Director of SNAP. “He exuded a warmth that I feel lucky to have experienced and I am grateful that Phil was there to share that warmth with so many survivors who he inspired, encouraged, and supported. We are honored to have known him.”
The President of SNAP's Board of Directors, Shaun Dougherty, added, "Phil was a true Hero. He provided me and countless other survivors with a voice that has been heard worldwide. He not only blazed the trail for many, but he also took us all along with him as well. He shared credit like no other. He was gracious with his time. He was kind. He was intelligent. He will be greatly missed by many."
In so many ways, Phil’s life was exceptional. We are so grateful he believed in himself. “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.”
But we believe that Phil did more than just speak out, he also inspired other survivors to come forward and share their truths. Because he shared so publicly with all of us, we know that he will continue, even in his passing, to serve as a mentor in that long journey towards healing and justice. We will miss him dearly.
CONTACT: Mike McDonnell, SNAP Communications Manager ([email protected], 267-261-0578), Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009) Shaun Dougherty, SNAP Board President ([email protected], 814-341-8386)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)