Archdiocese Jettisons Sex-Accused Lowell Pastor

By Tom Mashberg and Robin Washington
Boston Herald
February 23, 2002

After repeated inquiries from the Herald and other news media in recent days, the Archdiocese of Boston announced last night that yet another active priest - the 10th this month - was being jettisoned due to allegations of molestation.

The Rev. D. George Spagnolia, pastor of St. Patrick's in Lowell since the mid-1990s, was suspended "following an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor," the archdiocese said in a statement.

The archdiocese gave no details. But sources say the allegation was made directly to the church in recent days and was credible enough to warrant an inquiry. Sources say Spagnolia was summoned to the chancery yesterday and, when told of the charge, did not deny it.

The Herald had inquired several times in recent days about reports that a 10th active priest was facing possible ouster. Spagnolia's name was provided to the Herald by an anonymous tipster Thursday, even as allegations against him were apparently delivered to the chancery.

In its statement, the archdiocese said it had intended to announce the priest's removal to St. Patrick's parishioners today at 4 p.m., before Mass. It said "pastoral and counseling support" will be available to congregants at the church.

"Members of the media obtained information regarding this allegation, necessitating the public notification prior to the annoucement to parishioners," the church said.

Maryann Abcunas, who has two children enlisted as altar servers at St. Patrick's, said: "I would never, ever pass judgment on him. Father Spag has done very positive things in our parish." She said Spagnolia, who was ordained in 1964, was currently engaged in a major restoration of the parish church.

Speaking of the archdiocese's decision-making regarding pedophile priests, Abcunas said: "I'm really dismayed how the hierarchy of our church has handled this, as Father Spag was too. He's been really very up front explaining things to us in a very positive way. He's just a very nice man."

In a separate development yesterday, a lawyer for numerous victims of pedophile priests, Roderick MacLeish Jr., sent a letter to an attorney for Bernard Cardinal Law urging the church to provide far more psychological counseling to victims of known abusive clerics.

MacLeish said he and a team of five lawyers have received 100 phone calls from people alleging molestation, with some so distraught he fears for their safety.

MacLeish's statement meshes with comments from other local attorneys, as well as reporters, who say they have felt compelled to act as de facto therapists for victims and their kin horrified by the scope of the ongoing scandal.

A church official said last night Law has said he wants to improve psychological outreach. But the cardinal has yet to announce major measures to deal with the emotional crisis afflicting hundreds of apparent victims of priests. "The number of victims is large and appears to be growing," MacLeish told attorney Wilson Rogers Jr. "Most . . . are experiencing great emotional upheaval and . . . some have actually threatened suicide. It is imperative for the archdiocese to work with victims' advocates to respond to the situation."


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