Lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, center, addresses the media Monday outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston the day after clergy sex abuse whistleblower and survivor Phil Saviano of Douglas died. Joining Garabedian is Terence McKiernan, left, president of, and Skip Shea, an Uxbridge resident.

Phil Saviano, Douglas native who blew whistle on clergy sex abuse, remembered as a ‘hero’

Worcester Telegram & Gazette [Worcester MA]

November 29, 2021

By Henry Schwan

[Photo above: Lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, center, addresses the media Monday outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston the day after clergy sex abuse whistleblower and survivor Phil Saviano of Douglas died. Joining Garabedian is Terence McKiernan, left, president of, and Skip Shea, an Uxbridge resident.]

Phil Saviano of Douglas was a hero who spoke the truth to power — a truth directed at the Roman Catholic Church, as Saviano shined a powerful spotlight on the priest sex-abuse scandal.

That was the central message delivered at a press conference held Monday morning outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston to honor Saviano, one day after his death at 69.

The cause of death was gallbladder cancer, according to Saviano’s brother, Jim Saviano. 

A funeral service will be held 10 a.m. Friday at St. Denis Parish in Douglas, the same parish where Saviano said he was sexually abused at the age of 11 by the Rev. David Holley.

Holley died in a New Mexico prison in 2008 while serving a lengthy sentence for molesting eight boys.

In 1995, Saviano reached a $12,000 settlement in connection with a civil lawsuit he filed against the Worcester Diocese.

A lifesaver

“Phil Saviano literally saved my life,” said Skip Shea, an Uxbridge resident who attended Monday’s press event.  

Shea and Saviano’s lives are intertwined.  

Both went public with their stories of being abused by priests; and each channeled their pain into screenplays that became movies.  

Those creative ventures helped both men come to terms with their crises, while inspiring other victims of clergy sex abuse to go public with their grief.  

Shea met Saviano after the Boston’s Globe’s reporting that broke open the priest sex-abuse scandal in the Boston Archdiocese, reporting that relied on documents and sources supplied by Saviano.   

“I was black and white with my anger toward the church,” Shea said. “Phil helped me see it’s not that simple. It literally saved my life.” 

The Globe’s reporting earned it a Pulitzer Prize and was the basis for “Spotlight,” the Academy Award-winning movie in 2015. 

Shea’s film, “Trinity,” is based on a chance encounter at a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Millbury. It was a moment when Shea unexpectedly bumped into the priest whom Shea said sexually abused him at St. Mary Parish in Uxbridge in the early 1970s.

The abuse happened, Shea said, when he was 11 years old.  

Perfect temperament

As Shea sees it, Saviano was not only instrumental in uncovering the abuse hidden inside the walls of the Catholic Church. He did it with the perfect temperament to be the voice of the crisis.  

“He could reach the general public, which was the most dangerous to the (Catholic) institution,” Shea said. “He spoke the truth in that tone. It was easy for everyone to hear. 

“There is nobody around to replace that.” 

Hero with lasting impact

Reached by phone, Jim Saviano, who watched over his brother at the end of his life, said the family regarded Phil as a hero who had a lasting impact.  

“He lit a fuse that eventually erupted the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, the eruption is not big enough, and I’m not satisfied with the changes made,” Jim Saviano said. “There is much more work to do.” 

Saviano’s impact went beyond being a whistleblower.

“Because he showed others who had been abused the way to shed the yoke on their shoulders and begin to lead a more productive and joyful life, that is equally as important, I think,” Jim Saviano said.  

Garabedian remembers ‘great man’

Lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who represented numerous victims of priest sex abuse allegedly at the hands of the Boston Archdiocese, called Saviano a “great man” as he addressed those in attendance Monday outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.  

“His strength, determination, courage and inspiration will live on forever,” Garabedian said.  

Holding one placard with the words “Phil Saviano Hero” and another with, “He Spoke Truth To Power,” Robert Hoatson said Saviano proved a cover-up of massive abuse inside the Catholic Church. 

“He was nothing short of heroic,” said Hoatson, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse who is co-founder and president of Road to Recovery, Inc., a New Jersey-based non-profit that assists victims of sexual abuse and their families. 

“(Phil Saviano’s) legacy for victims and survivors is silence is no longer an option. We have to speak out and yell out our message.” 

Another admirer of Saviano in attendance Monday was Terence McKiernan, board member of Saviano served on the nonprofit’s board of directors for seven years. 

As McKiernan sees it, Saviano made three core contributions. 

The first is he established the New England Chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.  

Secondly, Saviano understood the value of legal documents to bring pressure on the Catholic Church.  

And finally, Saviano came to terms with his suffering, and found other interests to feed his soul. One was a love for Mexican art that inspired Saviano to start a website, Viva Oaxaca Folk Art, that sold handmade pieces Saviano purchased on trips to southern Mexico. 

“He had boundless passion,” McKiernan said. “I miss him terribly. His contributions will endure.” 

Noticeable absence

Absent from Monday’s event was a representative from the Catholic Church, a development not lost on those who believe Phil Saviano was a beacon of truth.  

“I’m not surprised (a church official wasn’t present),” Jim Saviano said. “It’s another strong signal of not coming to grips with their problems.” 

Among the hundreds of emails Phil Saviano received in the final five months of his life, only one arrived from an official tied to the Catholic Church.

It was penned by a priest who Jim Saviano said had the “courage to recognize what Phil accomplished and thanked him for doing it.” 

As for an email Jim Saviano sent nearly two weeks ago to Pope Francis requesting the Vatican recognize the work of his brother to publicly uncover clergy sex abuse, there hasn’t been a reply. 

“You see what side of the coin (Pope Francis) is on. I have not gotten a response and don’t expect one.” 

Contact Henry Schwan at Follow him on Twitter @henrytelegram