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Spotlight Report

Pastor admits lie on celibacy

By Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 3/1/2002

Rev. D. George Spagnolia speaks with the press following the revelation that he is gay and has not celibate over the past years. (Globe Staff Photo / Bill Greene)
The Rev. D. George Spagnolia, who says he is falsely accused of child molestation, acknowledged yesterday that he lied this week when he said he remained celibate while on leave from the priesthood.

The Lowell pastor is fighting for his job and his reputation. He was one of 10 priests removed by Cardinal Bernard F. Law last month in a sexual abuse scandal that has resonated nationwide, and the first to publicly proclaim his innocence.

Spagnolia said yesterday that shortly after he took a leave from the priesthood in 1973 he began a multi-year sexual relationship with Winston F. Reed.

The 64-year-old priest has publicly questioned the veracity of his accuser, dismissing as fabrications the charges that he molested a 14-year-old while serving at a Roxbury church in 1971.

Spagnolia said last night that his contention that he had abstained from sex was not true.

Caught in a lie over his sexual history, Spagnolia said he could not measure the damage to his own credibility.

''I'll have to let the people judge that,'' said Spagnolia, reached by telephone last night at St. Patrick's rectory. ''My intention was not to hide it. I just don't know how people are going to respond.''

During a Tuesday interview with the Globe, Spagnolia offered - without being asked - that during his 20-year leave of absence from the priesthood he remained celibate, one of the central vows he accepted upon ordination in 1964.

''Celibacy was for me,'' he said on Tuesday. ''I felt called to that. I remained celibate during that time. ... 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 Spagnolia, who left the priesthood in 1973 over what he said was a dispute with then-Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros, said he began a sexual relationship with Reed.

''There was a time when I did experiment in that way,'' said Spagnolia, adding that he did not have other sexual partners after his relationship with Reed ended.

Reed, contacted at his home last night, confirmed that he lived with Spagnolia in Hyannis until about 1980, an open relationship that he said he was surprised to learn that Spagnolia had disavowed.

''I lived with him as a gay lover,'' said Reed, who works for the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission. ''We shared a house and a bed both in Boston and Hyannis.''

Reed said the relationship began while Spagnolia was still living in the rectory at St. Francis de Sales Church in Roxbury, but after he had taken a leave from the priesthood.

''He moved into my apartment in the South End, and on weekends we commuted to Hyannis,'' said Reed, who said he met Spagolia at a bar and found him engaging and smart. ''We decided to drop the apartment and to live in his house.''

Reed said he spoke with Spagnolia by telephone after his defiant press conference on Monday, during which the pastor was cheered when he said he had done nothing wrong and demanded due process from the archdiocese.

''I asked him if he had made provisions for his gay lifestyle coming out, as I felt it was going to be and I wanted to know how to handle it if the subject was broached with me,'' said Reed. ''He said he saw no way that it would ever come out.''

Joanne Seneta of Lynn, like others who contacted the Globe yesterday, said she was surprised to read Spagnolia's claim to a celibate lifestyle. The former Yarmouth Port resident said Spagnolia's relationship with Reed was common knowledge among acquaintances on Cape Cod.

''I do question his credibility and find myself feeling very uncomfortable when listening to him,'' said Seneta. ''He's being broadcast as a hero and martyr and it just doesn't seem right. I hope he does not ruin the credibility of future innocent priests.''

Reed said his relationship with Spagnolia soured in 1980, but he termed their breakup mutual and said Spagnolia helped him move out. He said he holds no vendetta against Spagnolia. ''But you don't lie about it either,'' he said.

''I'm somewhat disappointed in him as a person and a priest,'' said Reed. ''I have no idea if the charges against him are true or not. I hope they are not. I do know that he has openly lied and that disturbs me. I don't want someone to build a following and create a cause that is built on lies and omissions.''

Thomas Farragher can be reached by e-mail at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 3/1/2002.
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