Prosecutors Drop Investigation of Lowell Priest
By Jack Sullivan
March 16, 2002
Prosecutors yesterday said the statute of limitations had run out and dropped their investigation of child sexual abuse allegations against a Lowell priest who had defiantly proclaimed his innocence while lying about being celibate.
But though criminal charges will not be brought against the Rev. D. George Spagnolia for allegedly molesting a 14-year-old boy in Roxbury in 1971, he remains barred from priestly duties while investigators from the Boston archdiocese continue their probe into the allegations.
"We are in the process of reviewing the allegation made against Father Spagnolia and he will remain on administrative leave until that process has been completed," said Donna M. Morrissey, spokeswoman for the archdiocese.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley said his office determined the six-year statute of limitations that was the law in 1971 had expired, making further investigation of the allegation moot.
"For our purposes, the first part of our investigation was whether there could have been a viable prosecution and we determined there could not," Conley said. "I can neither substantiate nor refute that allegation."
Laws passed by the Legislature more recently have extended the statute of limitations on child abuse to 15 years after it is first reported by the victim or a guardian or after the child turns 16.
Spagnolia could not be reached for comment and his attorney did not return a call.
Bernard Cardinal Law last month ordered Spagnolia to leave St. Patrick's Church in Lowell, where he was pastor, after the allegation surfaced that he molested the teen while serving at St. Francis de Sales in Roxbury.
Surrounded by cheering parishioners, Spagnolia refused to leave and demanded an expedited probe to clear himself. In interviews after challenging Law, Spagnolia insisted he had remained celibate both while as a priest and during a 20-year leave of absence.
But several days later, he admitted he lied and said he had been sexually active in at least two gay relationships. He moved out of the St. Patrick rectory earlier this month. He also refused to meet with Conley's office despite his insistence on the investigation.
"We had been in contact with his attorney shortly after receiving the information and asked him to submit to an interview and he declined," said Conley. "He has that right."
Wendy J. Murphy, the attorney for the alleged victim, said her client accepts Conley's decision and has no plans to sue either Spagnolia or the church.
"The decision speaks for itself," said Murphy. "Father Spagnolia lied to the public twice and refused to cooperate with the law enforcement investigation he demanded. I think that tells us all we need to know about whether the abuse actually occurred. Unfortunately, he didn't get caught soon enough."
Murphy said lawmakers need to revisit the laws governing sexual abuse and consider making them retroactive.
"Generally speaking, the statute of limitations are unconscionably short for these kinds of cases," said Murphy, who runs a victim advocacy center. "What more evidence do we need that we need new laws with regard to the statute of limitations. Hundreds (of victims) have come forward and courtroom doors have been slammed on them."
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.