Abuse survivor Phil Saviano said something profound by having a Catholic funeral

Abuse survivor Phil Saviano

Title: Abuse survivor Phil Saviano said something profound by having a Catholic funeral
Author: Terence McKiernan,
Publisher: National Catholic Reporter (NCROnline)
Date: 08DEC2021

Almost 20 years ago, clergy abuse survivor Phil Saviano told the first Voice of the Faithful conference: “I am not faithful.” He said the repeated assaults he suffered from Fr. David Holley had led to losing his faith before he even went through puberty.Yet, on Dec. 3, Saviano was buried in a rural cemetery of the Diocese of Worcester, after a funeral Mass at St. Denis Catholic Church in Douglas, Massachusetts.

It was the very church where Saviano had been sexually assaulted repeatedly as a boy by Holley. A familiar photo shows Phil in front of St. Denis – the church and the statue – in the late 1990s, wearing a Recovering Catholic T-shirt. What are we to make of Phil Saviano’s provocative final gesture?

Phil’s funeral Mass (the video is available here) was nothing like the healing Masses and ceremonies of atonement that have become customary in the fourth decade of our ongoing abuse “crisis.” Many survivors bravely attended, as well as four members of the original Boston Globe “Spotlight” team that rocked the U.S. church with their landmark reporting on clergy abuse throughout 2002.

The Mass wasn’t conveniently detached, in the manner of episcopal apologies. Phil chose four eulogists. Two were survivors: David Clohessy, formerly of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and Susan Pavlak of the Gilead Project. Phil’s brother Jim spoke beautifully about the abuse crisis and his brother’s vindication and legacy. As Phil’s fellow board member at, I was the fourth speaker.

Phil picked Fr. Ron Coyne from Transfiguration Parish in the Boston Archdiocese as celebrant. Coyne had visited Phil twice in hospice and had hosted Phil, Susan and me for a clergy abuse panel at his old parish, St. Anne’s in Hyde Park. As an outsider, Coyne was free to engage bluntly and directly with clergy abuse in the prayers of the faithful and his homily; the Mass and music were unusually dignified and traditional.

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