LOWELL, Mass. (AP) – A Roman Catholic priest who fought his removal from a Lowell parish after a decades-old allegation that he sexually abused a child has died at age 70.

The Rev. D. George Spagnolia died on May 6, according to a notice in the church bulletin at St. Patrick Church in Lowell. The notice did not give a cause of death.

A memorial Mass was scheduled for Saturday.

The Archdiocese of Boston removed Spagnolia and put him on administrative leave in 2002 after an allegation that he improperly touched a 14-year-old boy twice in 1971. The alleged abuse took place while Spagnolia was at St. Francis de Sales Church in Boston.

Spagnolia insisted he never hurt a child and became the first priest to fight his suspension under a zero-tolerance policy toward child sex abuse that the archdiocese adopted amid the clergy sex abuse scandal.

In February 2002, he stood in front of St. Patrick and denied the allegations while surrounded by hundreds of supporters. He said he would defy his orders to resign from then-Boston Archbishop Bernard Law.

However, Spagnolia admitted to lying about remaining celibate during an 18-year leave from the priesthood that ended in 1991. Spagnolia later said he had two homosexual relationships during that time.

The Suffolk District Attorney’s office closed a review of the 1971 allegation without filing charges because it fell outside the applicable statute of limitations.

Spagnolia, who recently had been living in New Bedford, hired a canon lawyer to fight his removal by the archdiocese.

He took his case to the Vatican in Rome, but was unable to get the church to reverse the decision, his former attorney, Eileen Donoghue, said Friday.

Spagnolia’s story was included in a 2005 Showtime television movie “Our Fathers,” about the clergy abuse scandal, in which he was portrayed by Brian Dennehy.


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