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Phil Saviano, advocate for survivors of abuse by Catholic priests, dies at 69

Phil Saviano, advocate for survivors of abuse by Catholic priests, dies at 69
Phil Saviano (R), an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, portrayed by actor Neal Huff (L) in the 2015 film "Spotlight," died at the age of 69 Sunday following a battle with cancer. File Photo by Nina Prommer/EPA-EFE

Nov. 28 (UPI) -- Phil Saviano, a prominent advocate for survivors of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, died on Sunday. He was 69 years old.

Saviano, who was pivotal in providing information for the Boston Globe's investigation into sexual abuse within the city's clergy, died on Sunday after a battle with gallbladder cancer, his brother Jim Saviano told The Washington Post.

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In October he announced doctors could no longer treat his cancer and had also had heart surgery and a stroke in the following months.

Born June 23, 1952, in Douglas, Mass., Saviano first came forward about the abuse he faced in the church in 1992 after reading that Catholic priest David A. Holley had been arrested for abusing boys in a church in New Mexico in the 1970s.

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While dying of AIDS and thousands of dollars in debt, Saviano told the Globe about his abuse at Holley's hands and reached a $5,7000 settlement with the diocese of Worcester, Mass., turning down a larger settlement that would have required him to remain silent about his childhood trauma.

"If I had not been dying of AIDS, I would not have had the courage to come forward, but at that point my career was over, I was on my way out physically, my reputation was shot in the eyes of many people, and I didn't have a lot to lose," he told the Globe in 2009. "This was a final opportunity to effect some change and address this thing that happened to me when I was a kid."

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However, after protease inhibitors to treat his AIDS became available, Saviano continued his work with abuse survivors founding a New England Chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, in 1997.

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Using church documents about his own case he obtained through his court actions, he also kept records on abuse in the church and heard the stories of other victims.

"I quickly became a repository of horror stories, offering support and advice to victims calling from all over the country," he said.

He also worked with the Globe's Spotlight team in 2002 as he detailed abuse within the church and shared stories of other survivors, leading to the Pulitzer Prize-winning series that set off another flood of accusations throughout the nation.

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Saviano was portrayed by actor Neal Huff in the 2015 film Spotlight about the story and was on stage along with the cast and crew when it won the Academy Award for best picture.

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