The News & Observer
11 January 2017
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.
A Roman Catholic priest filed suit Wednesday against his former diocese, saying that the bishop pushed him aside and lied about him because he called law enforcement after another priest showed child pornography to a teenage boy and cooperated with the investigation.
The Rev. John Gallagher said that Bishop Gerald Barbarito of the Palm Beach Diocese forced him from the church where he worked and publicly called him a liar after he refused to cover up for the other priest. Joseph Palimattom was convicted of showing obscene material to a minor, spent six months in jail and was deported home to India.
Gallagher told The Associated Press that his case shows the church has not reformed as promised after it became public knowledge that church leaders had covered up sexual abuse by priests for decades around the world.
“Any priest could be in this situation,” Gallagher said. “Any priest in this situation should know that if it happened to them, they will not get the support of the church. You will be ostracized.”
The lawsuit does not seek a specific amount, but Gallagher’s attorney Ted Babbitt said he will seek enough to cover Gallagher’s lost salary and benefits plus punitive damages for his lost reputation.
The diocese declined specific comment on the lawsuit, but pointed to Barbarito’s previous denials of Gallagher’s allegations. In those statements, made last year after Gallagher went public with his accusation, Barbarito says that he and other church officials acted appropriately when Gallagher informed them of Palimattom’s crime.
“We not only immediately reported the incident to the police and state attorney, but cooperated as fully in the investigation as we could,” Barbarito said in one statement that was read in churches throughout the diocese. “Father Gallagher’s harmful assertions are an embarrassment to my brother priests as well as to me.”
Gallagher, 49 and a priest since 1992, came to the United States from his native Northern Ireland in 2000 and became the head priest at Holy Name of Jesus in West Palm Beach in April 2014.
That following December, Palimattom arrived from India and was assigned to be Gallagher’s assistant. According the lawsuit, church officials in India did not tell Gallagher that Palimattom had been previously accused of sexually abusing children.
Gallagher says in the lawsuit that on Jan. 5, 2015, three weeks after Palimattom’s arrival, a 14-year-old boy complained that Palimattom had shown him sexually explicit photographs of naked boys who were approximately 6 years old.
Gallagher says he immediately confronted Palimattom, who admitted showing the photographs to the teen. The conversation was witnessed by a retired Palm Beach County sheriff’s detective and his wife, the church’s office manager.
“His answer was, ‘I’ve done this before, I have gone to confession, been told to say my prayers and everything will be OK,'” Gallagher said Wednesday.
Gallagher says he and the retired detective contacted the state attorney’s office and were told that the teen’s father had already reported Palimattom, who was arrested the next day.
He said he then called the diocese and was told that the normal procedure would be to send Palimattom home to India. He says he was also told him not to offer too much information to investigators, but he says he recounted his entire conversation with Palimattom to detectives. He also turned over security video showing the conversation.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office issued two commendation letters to Gallagher thanking him for his assistance. Chief Deputy Michael Gauger and Detective Debi Phillips each wrote that in previous investigations of sexual abuse the local church had not cooperated, so they were pleased by how helpful Gallagher had been. Two previous bishops of the diocese resigned after admitting to sexually abusing boys before arriving in Florida.
Gallagher said he then wrote letters to high-ranking Catholic officials, saying Palm Beach Diocese officials had tried to cover up the Palimattom case. He said Barbarito retaliated by driving him from Holy Name of Jesus by turning the Spanish-speaking portion of the parish against him. He said that in May 2015 when he was hospitalized for a possible heart attack, Barbarito showed up in his room and berated him, accusing him of faking. He said that when he was released, he found that he had been locked out of the parish.
After some Holy Name of Jesus parishioners publicly protested his dismissal, Barbarito had diocese priests read a statement in January 2016 at all Masses saying Gallagher was spreading falsehoods. On a Facebook page, one diocese official wrote Gallagher “is blatantly lying and in need of professional help as well as our prayers and mercy.” Similar statements were made to local news media.
Gallagher said Wednesday that he is unsure if he wants to remain a priest.
“Why would I ever trust them again?” he asked.
WEST PALM BEACH —
A former priest at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church on Wednesday sued the Diocese of Palm Beach, claiming it punished him for exposing a pedophile priest rather than covering it up as they wanted.
The lawsuit, filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, accuses the diocese and Bishop Gerald Barbarito of defaming the Rev. John Gallagher. The 49-year-old priest pointed to a statement posted last year on the diocesan website that said Gallagher was “blatantly lying” and “in need of professional assistance” for claiming church leaders urged him not to tell police a visiting priest in January 2015 had shown pornographic pictures to a 14-year-old youth at the suburban West Palm Beach church.
“Today is a sad day,” said Gallagher, who was wearing a clerical collar at a morning press conference. “Thirty years of my life has been destroyed by the Roman church.”
His attorney, Ted Babbitt, said his treatment is especially heinous because the Catholic Church under the leadership of Pope Francis has pledged to vigorously root out priests accused of sex offenses.
Gallagher says that when he learned of transgressions by a visiting priest, the Rev. Jose Varkey Palimattom, diocesan leaders told him the best course of action was to put Palimattom on a plane back to his home in India. Gallagher said he also learned Palimattom had a history of inappropriate conduct with children in India, making Gallagher suspect the church was continuing its well-documented practice of moving problem priests to other parishes.
After Gallagher worked with Palm Beach County sheriff’s detectives to prosecute Palimattom, he was locked out of the church on Southern Boulevard and Military Trail. While he was lauded by Chief Deputy Sheriff Michael Gauger for working with detectives, he was treated like a pariah by diocesan leaders, Babbitt said.
Further, Gallagher said, his pleas for assistance from other church leaders, including those at the Vatican, went unanswered.
He said he reached out to Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, who was sent to Palm Beach County in 2002 to become its bishop after two of his predecessors were removed as a result of sexual misconduct. O’Malley, who went on to lead the troubled Catholic Church in Boston after it was rocked by priest pedophile scandals and was later elevated to cardinal, offered no help, Gallagher said.
Sadly, Babbitt said, Gallagher’s treatment shows the church has not taken steps to deal with abuses that were detailed last year in the award-winning movie, “Spotlight.”
“It’s exactly the same attitude,” he said. Like priests in the movie that chronicled the Boston Globe’s 2002 investigation of sexual misconduct by Catholic clergy, church leaders wanted to deny wrongdoing. “It shows the Catholic Church has learned nothing despite years of abuse scandals,” Babbitt said.
Dianne Laubert, a diocesan spokeswoman, said officials hadn’t seen the lawsuit. But, she said, their view of Gallagher’s allegations haven’t changed since they surfaced last January. In a statement that Barbarito on Jan. 29 asked be read during church services throughout the diocese, he denied the allegations.
“Our Diocese in no way, as Father Gallagher erroneously asserts, tried to ‘cover up’ the inappropriate behavior of a visiting priest,” Barbarito wrote. “In fact, in accord with our very rigorous policies pertaining to the protection of children, we not only immediately reported the incident to the police and State Attorney, but cooperated as fully as we could in the investigation.”
“Father Gallagher’s harmful assertions are an embarrassment to my brother priests as well as me,” the bishop wrote.
The diocese also posted three statements about Gallagher on its website last year. In one, it wrote: “Father Gallagher is blatantly lying and is in need of professional assistance as well as our prayers and mercy.”
Palimattom pleaded guilty in April 2015 to a charge of showing obscene material to a minor and was sentenced to six months in jail.
Last year as the controversy brewed, The Palm Beach Post reported that some fellow priests claimed Gallagher was upset that he was passed over for promotions and had numerous problems since arriving in the diocese from his home in Northern Ireland roughly 20 years ago.
In the lawsuit, Gallagher said the experience has reignited the post-traumatic stress disorder he suffers as a result of horrors he suffered in his war torn homeland. As pressure increased from church leaders to ignore Palimattom’s misdeeds, he was hospitalized with a heart attack. Upon his release, he discovered he was locked out of his home and his church, Babbitt said.
Gallagher said he has received no support from priests in the five-county diocese or any of the roughly 3,000 families who were members of the congregation. He said the diocesan’s statements against him are ironic.
One of the 10 Commandments dictates that “thou shall not bear false witness,” he said. “They used the pulpit to defame my name and my character.”
Indian priest claimed superiors knew he abused before
Florida’s Palm Beach diocese has murky past on clerical child sex abuse issue
The Irish Times
Wed, Feb 10, 2016, 01:00
Fr John Gallagher began canon law proceedings last summer.
The Catholic diocese of Palm Beach in Florida was not informed that a priest convicted there last year on charges related to child abuse had a similar history in India.
Strabane-born Fr John Gallagher began canon law proceedings last summer against the Florida diocese after he was disciplined for raising questions about the Indian priest’s conduct.
The case by the Irish priest against Bishop Gerald Barbarito now rests with the Vatican’s new tribunal of accountability, set up to investigate the actions of bishops when faced with child abuse allegations.
Fr Jose Palimattom, who began working in Palm Beach in late 2014, admitted showing obscene images to a minor there on January 4th 2015. He subsequently pleaded guilty, served a sentence, and was deported to India.
According to police reports of the case seen by The Irish Times, investigating officers were told by three people that Fr Palimattom admitted he abused a minor in India prior to his arrival in the US, and said church authorities in India were aware of this.
Parochial administrator at the Palm Beach parish Irish priest Fr John Gallagher, office manager Barbara O’Shea and operations manager Kevin Flynn were told by Fr Palimattom, after the incident on January 4th, “of an undocumented incident in India”.
“When (Fr) Gallagher asked Palimattom if he had ever had sex with a male, he advised yes. When asked if the male was a minor, Palimattom said yes and that it was in his culture.”
Police reports said the witnesses agreed when “Palimattom was asked if the diocese in India was aware of his indiscretions with a male, he said yes. When asked how the incident was resolved, Palimattom advised he was told to go to confession and make a retreat and that all would be okay.”
Interviewed by police on January 5th, 2015, Fr Palimattom said that “in 2014 he was advised by his major superior in India about a position as a priest in Palm Beach County, Florida . . . Palimattom applied for and then accepted the position and flew directly to the US from India.”
In a statement Palm Beach diocese said that prior to Fr Palimattom’s arrival “receipt of a certificate of aptitude from the minister provincial in India . . . assured us that there is nothing in his past that would indicate that he might deal with minors or adults in an inappropriate manner. . . no prior misconduct was revealed.”
In a statement the Franciscan’s Province of St Thomas the Apostle at Bangalore said that “to the best of our knowledge Fr Palimattom is a good, God-fearing priest and a gentleman”.
“And nothing of this sort of behaviour was manifested or reported to the authorities here in the province. There was no occasion where the authorities have reprimanded Fr Jose Palimattom concerning this subject.”
The case has been brought to the attention of Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Seán O’Malley, himself a Franciscan, chair of Rome’s new Commission for the Protection of Minors.
Cardinal O’Malley served as Bishop of Palm Beach from 2002 to 2003. His three immediate predecessors in Palm Beach included two bishops who resigned on admissions that they had sexually abused minors. Bishop Keith Symons did so in 1998, and Bishop Anthony O’Connell in 2002.
A third predecessor there was Bishop Thomas Daily, Bishop of Palm Beach prior to Bishop Symon. He had been auxiliary bishop and chancellor in Boston archdiocese to 1984. In 2002 he expressed “profound regret” when named as defendant in 56 of 84 cases filed by people claiming abuse by America’s most notorious clerical paedophile Fr John Geoghan in Boston over three decades.
Father John Gallagher has spent much of the past week portraying himself to media outlets in Ireland and Florida as a whistleblower punished by the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach for alerting authorities to a pedophile priest.
But with the blessing of Bishop Gerald Barbarito, another version of Gallagher is emerging from diocese employees and parishioners. They paint an unflattering portrait of an egotistical problem-priest who spread lies about the diocese because he was passed over for a promotion for at least the second time in six years.
“The only reason that this is going on is that John is very upset and angry that he was not named pastor. That’s the bottom line. He wanted to be pastor of Holy Name so bad,’’ said Father Nestor Rodriguez, pastor at St. Ann’s Church in West Palm Beach. “John is a disgruntled employee of the diocese. He needs serious professional help.’’
Among allegations made to The Palm Beach Post about the 60-year-old priest, who rose from humble Northern Ireland origins and bounced around 11 pastoral assignments since coming to Florida in 2000, are:
• Gallagher sparked numerous complaints from Hispanic parishioners at Holy Name of Jesus Church in West Palm Beach. They say he drove a wedge into the congregation’s 2,000 members by mistreating Hispanics and trying to push them away from the church because he said they didn’t contribute enough to the collection plate.
• He harassed a Cuban priest, Father Jose Crucet, prompting Hispanic parishioners to demand Gallagher’s transfer. When Crucet resigned because of stress, the diocese, upon Gallagher’s recommendation, replaced Crucet with Father Jose Palimattom, who was arrested two months into his new assignment for showing pornographic images to a 14-year-old boy after Mass in January 2015.
• He transformed the living room of his parochial house into a piano bar where church employees served drinks and cleaned dishes at “high roller” parties he hosted for friends and parishioners.
Barbarito, whose diocese has issued two press releases this week discrediting Gallagher, took another extraordinary step Friday. He ordered priests to read a letter during Mass this weekend addressing Gallagher and his “unfounded allegations” that the diocese “tried to ‘cover up’ the inappropriate behavior of” Palimattom.
“Father Gallagher’s harmful assertions are an embarrassment to my brother priests as well as to me,” Barbarito says in the five-paragraph letter, which closes with the bishop asking parishioners “to pray for Father Gallagher.”
Gallagher on Friday referred questions about the diocese’s allegations to his attorney, who called the assertions a “smear” campaign meant to discredit a good priest.
“This shows what they are about — retaliation. That’s all there is,” said Robert Flummerfelt, an attorney with Canon Law Services in Las Vegas. “If they want to go down and fight in the gutter with Father Gallagher, he can do the same thing.”
In the spotlight
The priest-vs.-bishop spat appeared to start when Gallagher was passed over for a promotion at Holy Name last spring. That prompted him to start reaching out to media outlets with reports that the diocese changed the locks on his parochial house and transferred him to a Stuart church after he refused church orders to put Palimattom on a plane to India rather than report him to law enforcement.
The allegations seemed sensational considering how the Catholic Church has been trying to bounce back from an international scandal of priests abusing kids, a troubling episode currently being replayed in the Oscar-nominated movie “Spotlight.”
Gallagher’s assertions also sharply contrasted with the zero-tolerance policy adopted by the Palm Beach Diocese in 2002 after the resignation of the second of two bishops in four years over charges of improper sexual relationships with teenage boys.
To bolster his case, Gallagher supplied media outlets with a letter written to Cardinal Sean O’Malley by Chief Deputy Michael Gauger of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, praising Gallagher for his help in prosecuting Palimattom.
The Irish Independent newspaper published Gallagher’s assertions Monday, prompting several media outlets in Ireland and Florida, including The Palm Beach Post, to pursue the story.
The diocese initially responded with vague denials. But when the stories prompted a protest Tuesday in front of diocese offices in Palm Beach Gardens by members of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the diocese went on the offensive.
Although Barbarito has made no public comments about Gallagher, he authorized priests and parishioners to talk to The Post.
“He is very smart. He is conniving. He is self-centered. He is all about John Gallagher,’’ said Luis Trinidad, who worked under Gallagher as the director of Hispanic Ministries at Holy Name.
Holy Name, on Military Trail just south of Gun Club Road, is a blue-collar parish with members from different cultural backgrounds. Last year, Rodriguez said, he and Barbarito sat through “many, many appointments” with parishioners, “both Anglo and Hispanic,’’ who were unhappy with Gallagher.
“One person after the other came up and said, ‘We don’t have anything personally against Father John, but we just feel he doesn’t understand us, he doesn’t interact with us.’ They were very disappointed at his performance. They felt cut off,” Rodriguez said.
Many congregants were upset that Gallagher would call the police on Hispanic kids who were playing basketball on church grounds.
“From day one he came in with the idea of getting rid of Hispanics in the parish,’’ Trinidad said. “He was always being a bully.’’
Jesus Lopez, a Holy Name parishioner for nearly 30 years, said he never saw Gallagher at the doors of the church shaking hands with church members after Mass.
“Maybe he did for the English Mass but not for the Spanish Mass,’’ Lopez said. “A lot of people ended up leaving the church until Father Gallagher was gone from here. I left for several months.”
Other parishioners complained that Gallagher was rarely available “when people would visit and seek counsel. Some people asked him to visit the sick, but he would not do that,” said Father Tom Barrett, who served on a committee that reviewed Gallagher’s performance at Holy Name.
Crucet, who has been with the diocese 15 years, said he served at Holy Name for three years. But the last four months there were stressful because he said he was harassed by Gallagher, who often changed his schedule at the last minute and parked his car in a way that prevented Crucet from accessing his car.
“He made me feel vulnerable, like he might manufacture something against me. He really had it in for me,” Crucet said.
“It deteriorated my health. I couldn’t sleep. My blood pressure was up. I was always worried. He accused me of stealing. He once showed me a sheriff’s card and said this man is looking for you.”
Crucet has since moved to St. Ignatius. “I looked in the English dictionary to find a word that properly reflects who he is. That word is ‘evil-doer,’ he said. “That defines the experience I had with him in the church. He made me suffer, he made me get sick. I decided to leave because I did not want confrontation.”
More than 150 people attended a meeting last February to air their grievances, which included accusations that Gallagher was trying to push away Hispanic members because they made up nearly one-third of the parish but contributed just 11 percent to collections.
“Over and over again, they commented that they were being discriminated against, they were not being treated justly and they were basically being abandoned and mistreated,’’ Rodriguez said.
Barrett added: “It was very much a groundswell of discontent.”
The accusations are remarkable considering Gallagher’s own background.
He was born and raised in the working-class town of Strabane, one of the most economically deprived communities in the United Kingdom. Like many towns in Northern Ireland, Strabane witnessed bombings and shootings in the political violence from the 1960s to the late 1990s known as The Troubles.
He’s the oldest of three brothers, including one who works as religious education director for the Archdiocese of Dublin. His parents still live in Strabane and attend Mass every day at the church where Gallagher started after he was ordained as a priest in 1992 — the Long Tower Parish, which dates to the year 542.
“John’s family came from quite humble origins but are very proud,’’ said Conor Donnelly, who grew in Derry, just north of Strabane, and spent time in the seminary with Gallagher.
“I couldn’t tell you any remarkable story about him. He was just a regular guy. He’s a very prayerful guy that inspires your spirit.’’
Locals still remember how Gallagher’s parents, during one spring break weekend, “organized fund-raising events to help pay for his education and training as a priest,’’ Donnelly said.
They also remember his talent as a singer and keyboard player who performed in bands and orchestras.
Gallagher became friends with the Irish singer Dana Rosemary Scallon, who sang the hit “All Kinds of Everything,” which knocked Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” off of Ireland’s No. 1 slot in 1970.
Scallon, who ran for president of Ireland in 1997 and later served as a member of European Parliament, worked with Gallagher on a musical album to raise money for low-income churches.
After Gallagher came to Florida in 2000, he persuaded her to perform concerts at Boca Raton’s St. Joan of Arc Church as recently as 2008.
Gallagher served as parochial vicar at St. Joan’s from July 2005 to October 2009. “It did not end well,’’ said Kevin Flinn, operations manager at Holy Name.
Flinn said Gallagher told him he had “put in for the pastoralship of St. Joan and they passed him over.’’
In all, Gallagher has had 11 assignments in the diocese, starting at St. Anastasia Church in Fort Pierce from September 2000 to August 2002 and ending with his transfer last spring to St. Joseph’s in Stuart.
He never reported to St. Joseph’s. He is on paid medical leave with benefits, even though he has not told the diocese where he is living.
“Despite the fact he had issues in every parish he’s been before, the bishop gave him the benefit of the doubt,’’ Rodriguez said. “When Father John was named administrator of Holy Name, trust me, there were priests on the board that said, ‘No, he’s going to mess it up again.’”
Parish piano bar
Not long after Gallagher’s arrival at Holy Name, he had workers install a piano and a bar in the rectory living room, where he would entertain friends, said Trinidad and Flinn.
“He called (his party friends) the high rollers,’’ Trinidad said.
Barrett said a priest having a piano in the rectory might not be surprising, “but certainly bringing in a bar would be unusual and not the norm.”
Flinn said many church employees resented “being invited to the party and being expected to tend bar and do dishes until the wee hours of the morning.’’
No one disputes Gallagher’s talents as a charismatic speaker who has offered inspiration and joy to congregants. Many parishioners called the diocese last week asking for Gallagher’s reinstatement, diocese spokeswoman Dianne Laubert said.
And many of his supporters say they have a hard time believing the diocese because of the Catholic Church’s history of covering up sex-abuse cases.
Gallagher has several friends who either work or used to work for PBSO, whose Gun Club Road headquarters is less than a half-mile from Holy Name.
Indications are Gauger, the PBSO’s second-in-command, decided on his own to write to Cardinal O’Malley, a former Palm Beach bishop, to praise Gallagher’s cooperation on the Palimattom case — and not at the request of Gallagher.
“I felt strongly about the cooperation we received and was compelled because of that to write the letter to the cardinal for accolades on (behalf of) Gallagher,’’ Gauger said in a voice message left for a reporter.
“Other than that I am not involved and I certainly don’t want to create an issue with the Catholic Church.’’
Some local Catholics fault the diocese for not fully commenting on Gallagher’s accusations as soon as the Irish newspaper broke the story.
“There’s a saying by Mark Twain: ‘A lie can travel around the world when the truth is still putting its boots on,’’’ Flinn said, “and that’s what this is.”
Staff researcher Melanie Mena contributed to this story.
Gallagher in Palm Beach Diocese
Parachial vicar at St. Anastasia Church, Fort Pierce — Sept. 1, 2000-Aug. 1, 2002
Parochial vicar at the Cathedral of St. Ignatious Loyola, Palm Beach Gardens — Aug. 1, 2002-June 30, 2005
Parochial vicar at St. Joan of Arc Church, Boca Raton — July 1, 2005-Sept. 30, 2009
Special leave to study evangelization — Oct. 1, 2009-Jan. 1, 2010
Special leave, Ave Maria University, Naples — Jan. 4, 2010-June 30, 2011
Special leave, spiritual director-arts with Soleil — July 1, 2011-July 1, 2012
Parochial vicar, Holy Name of Jesus Church, West Palm Beach — Dec. 1, 2013-June 30, 2014
Parochial administrator, Holy Name — July 1, 2014-June 30, 2015
Special leave since July 1, 2015.
Source: Diocese of Palm Beach
Disheartened Diocese Provides Multi-Page Response to Allegations Made by Fr. Gallagher
January 28, 2016
The Diocese of Palm Beach is posting this response to our website for those who wish to read the truth and a more detailed response than what the media is printing or airing in regards to the allegations made against the diocese by Father John Gallagher.