A heroic whistleblower in the long, sad mess of clergy sexual abuse


By Margery Eagan
On Spirituality columnist October 28, 2015

Remember the famous line in “Jaws” when Chief Brody first sees the monster shark and says, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”?

Phil Saviano remembers a similar line when he first told Boston Globe reporters there weren’t just one or two priests molesting a handful of children. Saviano knew of nearly 30 priests, if not more, with dozens of victims. And the Church was covering it up. He remembers how one editor took it all in, then called his boss to say: We’re gonna need more reporters. This is so much bigger than we thought.

Not long after that, stories of priestly sexual abuse and its cover-up burst onto the front page of The Boston Globe. It turned out there were scores of criminal priests, hundreds of victims. The abuse spanned decades. Cardinal Bernard F. Law shuffled abusers from parish to parish while lawyers pressed victims to sign confidentiality agreements in exchange for, essentially, hush money.

Now that story has been made into a highly praised movie, “Spotlight,” named for the Globe’s investigative team. It opens in theaters Nov. 6, and Phil Saviano is one of the victims portrayed. Played by actor Neal Huff, Saviano’s in that Globe meeting room holding a picture of himself at 12, the age he was when convicted serial rapist Father David A. Holley showed up in his parish. He asks the reporters, “How do you say no to God?”

“Spotlight” is not so much a story about survivors and their abuse as it is about the Globe’s uncovering a massive criminal network protected by the Catholic hierarchy. But Saviano, who for years ran New England’s chapter of SNAP (Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests) says it’s important as a powerful reminder of the scope of the crisis. At the movie’s end, there’s a list of around 200 cities where priests sexually assaulted children, and were protected.

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