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Accused Priest Denies — And Admits

Carousel -- Waveforms of a 4.7 earthquake that hit 1 mile N-NE of Hawthorne, Calif., May 18, 2009.
So. Calif. Seismic Network/USGS
Supporters of the Rev. D. George Spagnolia, the first suspended priest to publicly challenge the Boston Archdiocese's new sexual abuse rules, say he is the victim of a witch hunt.

Spagnolia, who was suspended last month after being accused of sexually abusing a 14-year-old boy in 1971, has denied any misconduct and vowed to fight for his job.

"It's turning into a witch hunt," said parishoner Jacqueline Carnerly, 66. "He's a good priest. He's our pastor. He does everything for us. The children go to him. They all love him."

Spagnolia last week criticized the archdiocese's policy of suspending accused priests before they're given a chance to defend themselves and reporting to authorities the names of all current and former priests who've been accused.

Spagnolia became one of 10 active Roman Catholic priests suspended under a policy intended to restore the community's trust after allegations that the archdiocese did little to stop child-abusing priests.

"This policy of no tolerance as it is being implemented does not arrive at justice, but cloaks fear and arrogance in the mantle of righteousness," Spagnolia said from the altar at St. Patrick Parish.

"What I think of Cardinal Law is I think he's lost all credibility among his priests because we know he's not there for us," Spagnolia told CBS News. "Should he step down? Yes. He should resign."

Last month Law announced the new zero-tolerance policy for abuse, and church officials have since turned over the names of 80 current and former priests accused of sexual abuse, some stretching back 40 years.

The new policy came after reports that the archdiocese had simply shuttled now-defrocked priest and convicted molester John Geoghan between parishes despite allegations against him.

Geoghan is serving a nine-to-10 year prison sentence for fondling a 10-year-old boy, and faces two more criminal trials and 80 lawsuits.

"What's happening can take on the quality of a witch hunt," said Richard Sipe, who has written books on pedophilia and the priesthood. "Since things weren't handled in a timely way, they're coming out in a very messy way and that's going to continue."

But Spagnolia isn't without sin himself.

"My sexual orientation is homosexual," he admitted.

He first told reporters he had been celibate but later admitted later he'd had a relationship with two men.

"Your critics and some of your supporters will say 'if he lied about his sexuality it's possible he lied to us about molesting a child?'" challenged CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts.

"People can say it is possible," he replied. "I say it is not true."

Spagnolia seems himself as a casualty of this war within the Church. He has moved out of the rectory, and spends his days on long walks with his Bible and his regrets.