For the last two decades, Phil Saviano and a team of volunteer lawyers have fought for the rights of thousands of clergy sex abuse victims. Last year, The New York Times profiled Mr. Saviano for his work at the Center for Constitutional Rights, where he was defending clergy sex abuse victims from the Archdiocese of New York.
On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Mr. Saviano, who had gone public about his own ordeal at the hands of clergy sex abuse, as a victim of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic Church officials. Mr. Saviano’s subsequent suicide early Tuesday in his Westchester County home is a reminder of how deeply those children were betrayed by their religious leaders.
“His body is now permanently suspended in my heart and his spirit will forever hover in my head,” said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “What I’ve seen Phil struggle with the last few years is his realization that his hope of being believed in the name of the Catholic Church had finally been dashed.”
More than 4,000 alleged clerical sex abuse victims have shared their stories with Mr. Saviano. He served as a volunteer attorney for “credibly” accused clerics around the country and was known to offer emotional comfort to the individuals he represented, said Laura Hess, deputy director of public affairs for the New York Archdiocese.
“Phil had told his wife he wasn’t sure he wanted to come home, but there were parts of him that wanted to be around people,” she said. “I think we all believed he was going to get better.”
A key figure in fighting clergy sex abuse, Mr. Saviano was 74. He moved into his home about six months ago, she said.