Lowell Priestsex Allegations against Spagnolia 'Decades' Old
By Dana Willhoit
Lowell Sun (Lowell, MA)
February 22, 2002
The Archdiocese of Boston last night said it is removing Father D. George Spagnolia, a popular Lowell priest, from St. Patrick's Parish over an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor, which reportedly took place "more than two decades ago."
"The Archdiocese of Boston planned to inform the parishioners of St. Patrick Parish about this development this weekend and concurrently announce it publicly through the media," Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Morrissey said last night. "Members of the media obtained information regarding this allegation necessitating the public notification prior to the announcement to the parishioners."
The removal announcement follows dozens of other allegations of sexual assault against priests in the local area and throughout the country.
Morrisey said a public relations spokesman would be at St. Patrick's Parish this weekend, and a representative from the Archdiocese will be there to provide pastoral support to parishioners.
Lowell Mayor Rita Mercier and City Councilor Edward "Bud" Caulfield defended Spagnolia and said they would stand with him at a press conference the priest plans to hold on Monday.
Mercier lashed out at Cardinal Bernard Law for his decision to remove Spagnolia over an allegation that an incident of abuse happened decades ago.
"I think it's nothing but a witch hunt. I blame Cardinal Law for this. If he'd handled it properly in the first place... . Now you've got all of these people coming out of the woodwork."
Mercier said Spagnolia told her about the accusation on Wednesday, and she immediately promised to help in any way he needed.
"He's always been there for so many people," she said. "I can't believe or accept the fact that he would harm anyone in any way."
Mercier said she was told the incident was alleged to have happened 31 years ago.
"This is an allegation, for God's sake. I thought you were not guilty until proven otherwise. How can he be removed? That's like saying, you're going to jail, but we're not going to give you a trial."
Mercier said Spagnolia's press conference is scheduled for Monday at 10 a.m. in front of St. Patrick's Church. She said she will be by his side.
"He's my friend and I'm not going to abandon him," Mercier said.
She said she has known Spagnolia since he first came to Lowell about five years ago. Although she does not go to St. Patrick's now, she was married there and went to school there. She first heard a sermon by Spagnolia shortly after the death of her mother, when she went to the church with a friend of hers.
No one answered the door at the Suffolk Street rectory last night at around 7:30 p.m., but the outgoing message on the church's answering machine still carries a greeting by Spagnolia. It wishes parishioners a blessed Christmas season and a happy New Year, and gives the weekend Mass schedule.
City Councilor Caulfield said he was told by Mercier on Wednesday night that Spagnolia had been called in by the Archdiocese and would be removed from the parish. Caulfield called Spagnolia immediately, he said.
"The man is devastated," Caulfield said. As for Caulfield, "I am absolutely stunned and shocked."
Caulfield described Spagnolia as "a priest's priest. He had broad shoulders for you to cry on if you needed to." He recalled how every Wednesday night, Spagnolia would make a seven-course dinner and invite parishioners.
Spagnolia had enlisted the help of local businessmen in rebuilding the church, soliciting money for repairs that probably came to around a million dollars, Caulfield said.
On Monday morning, Caulfield said, he also would be at the press conference at Spagnolia's side.
Spagnolia was also the chaplain for the Lowell police and fire departments, but there was no one at either department available for comment last night.
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