Files Say Molester Priest Still Active in Lexington Church

By Tom Mashberg
Boston Herald
February 7, 2003

A Stigmatine priest who admitted molesting teenage girls in the 1960s remains active in a Lexington church and organized an Oct. 16 forum there on the Catholic clergy sex abuse crisis, according to documents and interviews.

Files released yesterday on the Rev. Nicholas J. Spagnolo of Lexington show the priest admitted in 1993 to abusing the teens after a victim went to the Archdiocese of Boston and to leaders of the Waltham-based Stigmatine Order.

The files also show that Spagnolo, under the auspices of the Stigmatines, tried for the next three years to sponsor retreats for lay and religious women - despite strict orders from the archdiocese that he not minister unsupervised.

Word that Spagnolo was still active at Sacred Heart Parish in Lexington, and even organized its October "Crisis in the Church" forum, outraged Katherine M. Donnelly, a Franciscan sister who has spent years counseling the woman who first denounced Spagnolo.

"None of that squares with what was promised to the victims," said Donnelly, co-director of the Pastoral Response Assistance Team of Natick, an independent group. "I do not think having him active on this subject is appropriate at all."

Spagnolo did not respond to messages at his home. The Rev. Gregory J. Hoppough, provincial chief of the Stigmatine Order, and the Rev. Arnold F. Colletti, pastor of Sacred Heart, did not return calls seeking comment. Donna M. Morrissey, archdiocese spokeswoman, said the church would look into the matter before responding.

Spagnolo's file was among six new sets released yesterday. Five of the six priests named are accused of molesting young females.

"We're getting more and more calls to our office from women," said attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose firm obtained the files.

In Spagnolo's case, the priest admitted to church officials in 1993 he routinely "violated boundaries" while counseling in the 1960s.

"It was the '60s. I tried to help her. I was 32," he told the Clergy Review Board. "I realize my behavior was inappropriate."

Archdiocese officials wrote to the Stigmatines saying Spagnolo must be put on restricted ministry.

But the victim soon learned Spagnolo was trying to arrange retreats for Catholic women after a friend received a mailing signed by him.

Bernard Cardinal Law wrote to Hoppough's predecessor at the Stigmatines, Monsignor Robert White, demanding the mailings cease. He then told the victim there are jurisdictional problems between the archdiocese and the Stigmatines.

By 1997, there are no more indications Spagnolo was seeking to sponsor retreats. But he is quoted at length in an Oct. 10, 2002, article in the Lexington Minuteman about the need for the church to confront the abuse crisis head-on.

In other files released yesterday:

The Rev. Paul G. McPartland was accused in 1996 of trying to grope a teen in his car when she was 16 and a parishioner at South Boston's Gate of Heaven Parish in the 1960s. The church paid $18,000 for her therapy, but its Clergy Review Board did not remove him as pastor of Our Lady of the Lake in Monponsett, and he served until retiring last year.

The Rev. Gerard Dever, who died in 1997, was the focus of numerous complaints alleging he improperly touched girls, some at St. Ann's in Quincy. Archdiocese memos refer to his "boundary issues," an explanation that did not satisfy parents. Dever remained in ministry until health issues ended it.

Eric Convey and Robin Washington contributed to this report.


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