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ROME – Italian Father Francesco Spagnesi, who was arrested last week for the importation and sale of drugs, including the so-called “date rape drug,” is now also being investigated for intention to cause “serious harm” to others for failing to reveal his positive HIV status to former intimate partners.
Spagnesi, 40, formerly the pastor of Annunciation parish in Prato, near Florence, was placed under house arrest Sept. 14 and after an investigation into him was launched in August.
Police also arrested another Prato citizen, Alessio Regina, who was found to be in possession of GBL, also called “liquid ecstasy,” which is often used in casual consensual sexual, but which known to be a preferred date rape drug.
According to police investigations, the GBL, as well as an amount of cocaine, was imported from the Netherlands after being ordered online, and sold to people who attended parties at the Prato residence Spagnesi shared with Regina.
Spagnesi, a drug addict, used funds from his parish collection to purchase the drugs, allegedly embezzling roughly 200,000-300,000 euros ($234,690 – $352,035) in parish offerings.
According to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, despite Spagnesi’s insistence that he was observing proper treatment for his HIV and that he never had unprotected intercourse, at least 15 witnesses have refuted that account.
Regina has already been tested for HIV, and is apparently negative; however, at least two of the 20-30 people who regularly attended the parties he and Spagnesi organized have tested positive.
In Italian law, the crime of intention to cause “serious harm” is punishable with a sentence of 6-12 years in prison.
At an initial court appearance, Spagnesi said he did not say anything to his partners about being HIV positive because “I was being treated, I was taking anti-viral medicines and so I was not contagious, even if I interrupted the therapy for a few months.”
Spagnesi expressed remorse for his behavior, saying, “I no longer recognize myself; the vortex of cocaine has swallowed me. The drug made me betray my parishioners, it made me tell lies, it made me do things of which I am ashamed.”
“I am now HIV positive with AIDS,” he said, adding, “I ask everyone for forgiveness.”
Spagnesi’s lawyer, Federico Febbo, tried to defend him, saying Spagnesi was most likely not contagious, even if he had stopped his therapy for a time, because “the immunizing effect ceases only after several months.”
Spagnesi himself promised to repay the money he took from his parish, saying, “I will sell everything that belongs to me,” including a house he apparently owns in the mountains.
Together with his lawyers, Spagnesi has created a list of parishioners who made donations to his former parish, which were intended to be given to the poor and needy in the community.
“I wanted to be the shepherd of my faithful, guide them towards the ways of the Lord and I ended up in vice and perdition,” he said, admitting that he began taking drugs off and on around 10 years ago, when he met and “fell in love” with Regina.
“Then I entered the maelstrom of drug addiction. And the money was never enough. Thus began my ordeal and that of others,” he said.
Prior to his fall from grace, Febbo said Spagnesi was a “respected priest,” and was given prestigious roles due to his charismatic personality and his “brilliant mind,” all of which fell victim to “the abyss of cocaine.”
Spagnesi was beginning a mandated sabbatical from his bishop, Giovanni Nerbini, at the time he was placed on house arrest.
In previous remarks made in a brief video he published on the Diocese of Prato’s website after news of Spagnesi’s misdeeds went public, Nerbini said he had been aware for some time that Spagnesi was struggling, though he was unaware of the full extent of the problem.
Nerbini said that Spagnesi confided to having a drug problem in April, and so he ordered the priest to undergo treatment with a specialist.
In June, Nerbini said suspicious transactions were flagged in the accounts as Spagnesi’s parish, and he stripped Spagnesi of his administrative authority while the issue was being investigated.
Spaghesi was relieved of his pastoral duties by Nerbini as of Sept. 1 and was asked to use the break to focus on his personal issues; however, within days of that order taking effect, Prato law enforcement announced the findings of their investigation and Spagnesi was placed on house arrest.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen