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Spotlight Report

Lowell pastor agrees to leave rectory

Admits to having 2d gay relationship

By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff and Caroline Louise Cole, Globe Correspondent, 3/2/2002

A day after admitting he had lied about being celibate and acknowledging a long homosexual relationship during a leave from the priesthood, the Rev. D. George Spagnolia yesterday gave up his fight to remain in the rectory he had been ordered to leave after he was accused of sexually abusing a teenage boy 31 years ago.

During a rambling press conference at which he admitted to a second gay relationship, Spagnolia acknowledged that he is gay but denied molesting any child.

''Being gay doesn't mean you're a pedophile, being gay does not mean you cross-dress. They're apples and oranges,'' said Spagnolia, who was removed as pastor of St. Patrick's parish Feb. 20 by Cardinal Bernard F. Law and ordered to leave the rectory after he was accused of molesting a 14-year-old boy in 1971. He denies the charge and had refused to move out of the rectory while he challenges the allegation.

''So I am saying, `Yes, I've had gay relationships.' But I have never harmed a child,'' Spagnolia, 64, said.

Spagnolia also disclosed that in addition to his nearly four-year relationship with Winston F. Reed after leaving the priesthood in 1973, which was reported by the Globe yesterday, he also had a year-long relationship with another man in 1981 or 1982 before resuming a life of celibacy. He had previously said that he had no other sexual relationships after parting with Reed in 1980.

He apologized to his supporters, insisting that he never meant to deceive anyone and lied to protect the privacy of himself and his partners. However it was Spagnolia who brought up the issue of celibacy during an interview with the Globe on Tuesday, insisting that he had lived a celibate life during his 20 years away from the priesthood.

But the lawyer representing Spagnolia's alleged victim fired back, arguing that credibility, not sexuality, is the issue and the priest's lack of candor and conflicting statements supports her argument that he's also lying when he denies abusing her client.

''No one should disbelieve him because he's gay, but everybody should disbelieve him because he's a liar,'' said lawyer Wendy Murphy, who represents the unidentified man who claims Spagnolia sexually abused him twice during 1971 in Roxbury and Brighton.

During an interview with the Globe on Tuesday, Spagnolia volunteered, without being asked, that he had been celibate during his leave from the priesthood, noting, ''It's a special gift of the Holy Spirit and it's not meant for everybody. I am comfortable with it and, therefore, I can say I have the gift of celibacy.''

But, on Thursday night, when questioned about his relationship with Reed, Spagnolia acknowledged that he had lied about being celibate and had a multiyear relationship with Reed. But he said that he had no other sexual relationships after they parted in 1980.

''I will not try to defend it, except to say that there was no conscious decision to deceive, but rather in my naive effort to protect my own privacy and that of others, I made the decision that these were times which were private in nature and I saw no need to reveal them,'' Spagnolia said.

Spagnolia said he had confessed his sexual relationships to his spiritual adviser, but never revealed them to church officials.

Reed said yesterday that he wished his former lover had not tried to hide their past together.

''I'm sorry that he didn't do it to begin with because it has cost him a lot and has cost me a lot of scrutiny and the invasion of my privacy,'' said Reed, who was barraged by media requests for interviews yesterday. ''I wish he had been honest since day one and not hidden it. It would have saved us both a lot of stress.''

Despite the new revelations, many of Spagnolia's parishioners said they would continue to support the priest, who was among 10 removed by Law because of allegations of sexual abuse of minors and the first to publicly assert his innocence.

Rita Mercier, Lowell's mayor and a parishioner at St. Patrick's who helped organize a rally on Monday in support of Spagnolia, said, ''I am a little disappointed but I am still standing by him because he needs our prayers now more than ever.''

Mercier said Spagnolia's failure to acknowledge his past homosexual relationships hasn't shaken her belief in his honesty.

Noting that the sexual relationships disclosed by Spagnolia occurred when he was on leave from the priesthood, Roland Martin, a local funeral director, said, ''It was a lifestyle decision then and not my business. Everything we know about him and the way he has conducted himself during the time he has been in Lowell, leads me to believe in him.''

Donna McCreedy, a member of another Lowell parish, said she believed Spagnolia's lying about his homosexual relationships undermined his credibility.

''Being a homosexual doesn't make you a pedophile, but just the same, I don't think it was a wise decision for him to hold back his gay life from his parishioners at this time.''

The Archdiocese of Boston declined to comment on the new revelations.

In a statement, Donna Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said ''We respect Father Spagnolia's right to discuss publicly the accusations and details involved with the investigation. However, it would be detrimental to the investigation and resolution of this matter for the Archdiocese of Boston to disclose further details at this time.''

Thomas Farragher of the Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent Lauren Rouleau contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A4 of the Boston Globe on 3/2/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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