(CNN) — Phil Saviano, a survivor of clergy sex abuse who helped prompt a national dialogue about clergy misconduct, has died, a blog linked to his Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests group said Saturday. He was 69.
Saviano died in his sleep Friday night after a battle with cancer, according to the blog. A longtime native of the Hudson Valley of New York, Saviano was one of the earliest to call attention to the abuse of minors by clergy.
He was a successful real estate attorney and was a former director of communications at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. But Saviano’s most valuable contribution, victims’ advocates say, was a small coffee table book he created called “It Ain’t Easy Being a Whore.”
His book, first published in 1974, was a collection of his diaries documenting his experiences as a victim of clerical sex abuse. It helped draw attention to church personnel who abused minors — some of them priests — that was then relatively unknown.
“I can’t claim there is a single single revelation I’ve made,” Saviano told CNN in 2004. “I guess I’m unique among survivors, because I’ve been really lucky in that there’s been so much information out there.”
Saviano’s success came at a high price.
He was twice accused of sexually abusing children, including one accused in 1985 of fondling a boy at Saviano’s home.
He was suspended by the church. But after the book’s release, the lawyer, with the help of his father, acquired back his new-found notoriety — which he received well beyond the notoriety he had gained from his client work. Saviano became known as a “whore-maker.”
He left the church, went on his first book tour and on to conduct crusades around the country for his book, which became the basis for several movies.
In his youth, Saviano said he had four different priests as friends, and he attended seminary himself when he was in high school. He described himself as shy, but said he was shocked by the abuse he said he suffered from a priest at St. Paul’s School in Brewster, New York.
“My horizons were shrunk from a very early age,” he told CNN. “I didn’t have many options. … If you didn’t know anyone, you would end up having to trust people that you wouldn’t trust a neighbor or someone at work or your father, and I wouldn’t allow him to touch me, or he wouldn’t allow me to touch him.”
Survivors’ Network said Saviano died surrounded by his loved ones. Survivors of clergy sex abuse posted messages of gratitude on Saviano’s Facebook page.
The National Catholic Reporter wrote a tribute to Saviano. The website Commonweal wrote about his life, concluding that Saviano’s passions were indeed for those victimized by the church:
“Phil Saviano may have been the first to point out the systemic problem of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, and now he is the first to feel his own need for recognition and acceptance,” the website wrote. “He was honest, exposed the church’s flaws, and has worked since 1975 to end the abuse and the treatment of survivor alike. The real tragedy of his death is not the subject of his magazine articles, his book or this devastating horror he lived with so many years.”