Times Herald Record recordonline.com
HAMLET OF WALLKILL – Former priest Kevin Gallagher knows he betrayed his parishioners and violated his vows.
Was it wrong to have sex with a young man? Yes, he says.
Should that have disqualified him from remaining a priest? He doesn’t think so.
In March, Gallagher, 65, was officially laicized, or removed from the clergy. He had been suspended from serving as a priest since January 2015.
In 2009, he was the pastor of Pine Bush’s Church of the Infant Saviour.
He first met Michael Kyles when he led the funeral service for Kyles’ twin brother, Tyler. Kyles claims that in 2012, Gallagher gave him money to buy heroin – a drug habit he developed after his twin’s death – and sexually abused him.
Gallagher said he never saw Kyles again until 2013, when a mutual friend reintroduced the two.
Almost immediately, Kyles began borrowing money, Gallagher said.
Kyles admitted that he knew he could get money from the priest, based on a tip from a fellow addict who knew Gallagher.
Gallagher said he gave Kyles money on multiple occasions for rent, car parts and other family needs, totaling approximately $800.
He never knew it was being used to support Kyles’ heroin addiction, he said.
Kyles still insists Gallagher knew the money was for drugs.
Gallagher claims the encounters turned sexual, starting with shoulder massages and leading to oral sex that he said was consensual.
Nothing about the sex was consensual, according to Kyles, who believes that his addiction overpowered him, forcing him to accept the abuse.
“No, I was under the influence of drugs,” Kyles said. “I was scared. I never thought in my life that I’d ever do something like that. It wasn’t consensual. I needed money.”
Kyles said they had sex once, but Gallagher said it happened three times.
‘Sinful, yes. Crazy, no.’
Around June 2014, the Archdiocese of New York was notified of the alleged sexual abuse by a third party.
Gallagher was sent to Saint Luke Institute, a hospital in Maryland used by the church to address mental health and sexual abuse issues.
“I had sex with a consenting adult,” Gallagher said. “What’s crazy about that? Sinful, yes. Crazy, no.”
Gallagher said he was told going to the hospital was “a hoop to jump through” to save his standing as a priest.
Gallagher received a handwritten note from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, while at St. Luke’s in 2014 that made him believe he would remain a priest, he said.
“Let’s save and strengthen your priesthood. Return home renewed and stronger,” the cardinal wrote.
Six months later, in January 2015, he left the hospital and returned to Pine Bush. That month, he received a letter informing him he was suspended.
In February, the church sent a letter to Gallagher’s parishioners: “The matter is still under investigation, and at least until the matter is resolved, which we hope will be soon, Father Gallagher will not be permitted to serve as a priest in this archdiocese or anywhere else.”
Investigation and laicization
When a priest has consensual sex with an adult, there is “no blanket rule” on how to handle the situation, according to Joe Zwilling, director of communications for the archdiocese.
While having sex with a consenting adult would not be illegal, it is a violation of the vows priests take.
Kyles denied that the sex was consensual. The Orange County District Attorney’s Office conducted an investigation that resulted in no charges.
Internally, the Archdiocesan Review Board conducted a review, but the board has limited jurisdiction, Zwilling said.
“They do not have jurisdiction with cases over adults,” he said. “They deal with cases of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults, adults who may not be able to make informed decisions.”
Zwilling declined to say why the board reviewed this case or if Kyles was considered a vulnerable adult.
Gallagher believes the board should have recused itself from his case because it lacked jurisdiction. That’s why he declined an opportunity to speak before the review board, he said.
In September 2015, Cardinal Dolan sent Gallagher another letter: “The Archdiocesan Review Board has considered carefully your situation, studying your own written report as well, and has recommended that you not return to active ministry in the archdiocese.”
“I accept their recommendation,” the cardinal wrote.
Although some priests are “defrocked,” a forced laicization, Gallagher voluntarily stepped down, which was required for him to receive severance pay from the church, he said.
Zwilling said he could not say if the church would’ve defrocked Gallagher had he not applied for laicization.
Gallagher, having entered the seminary at 42 and being ordained at 48, served as a priest for 17 years when his laicization was approved by the Vatican in March.
Gallagher said he received “capital punishment for a Class-A misdemeanor.”
“I would reject that charge,” he said. “If somebody is going to classify that as a Class-A misdemeanor, that person is not in touch with reality.”
Kyles, now 24, said he has forgiven Gallagher. He is now married and has a son. He’s been clean for three years, he said.
Knowing that Gallagher will never again be a priest brings him a measure of peace.
“I’m really happy that he’s not practicing priesthood,” Kyles said. “There’s always going to be somebody that abuses their position.”It’s important to Kyles that no other young people go through what he did, he said.
“I forgive him with all of my heart and soul,” Kyles said. “I wish that he would just apologize to the people that he’s hurt. He doesn’t realize the gravity of the situation.”
Gallagher said he made mistakes that he cannot fix.
“I was tired, sick and lonely at that point. It’s not an excuse, but just an explanation,” Gallagher said.
“I will live with the fact that I violated my priesthood, betrayed my priesthood. I hurt my parishioners … I can’t undo that.”
That said, Gallagher thinks the church must fix its internal politics and corruption.
He wonders why he was removed from the ministry when other priests with worse offenses are simply transferred to another parish, he said.
He said the archdiocese picks and chooses which infractions to punish, then cited a number of examples, including monsignors John Woolsey and James White.
Woolsey, who died in 2016, was sentenced to prison in 2006 after stealing more than $800,000 from the St. John the Martyr parish in Manhattan.
According to “Catholic New York,” Woolsey was reassigned to Larchmont and New Rochelle after his release from prison.
White was a priest in the Bronx in 1998 when he was charged with possession of a controlled substance after police found him with cocaine, according to The New York Times.
White now serves as the pastor of St. Vito’s parish in Mamaroneck.
Zwilling said that Gallagher’s case is “fundamentally different” from Woolsey’s and White’s.
“Both of those individuals were charged with crimes, accepted their punishment, received help, and were able to return to ministry,” he said in an email. “Neither of those cases involved what Mr. Gallagher was accused of doing …”
Although he is no longer a priest, Gallagher wants to see the Archdiocese of New York returned to its glory – of honesty and goodness, he said.
“I never, ever will turn my back on the church. God gave us the church, and I just don’t like to see the way people have screwed it up,” he said.
Pine Bush priest removed over sex abuse allegations
Times Herald Record recordonline.com
Posted May 2, 2015 at 6:18 PM
PINE BUSH – Mikey Kyles’ 17-year-old twin brother, Tyler, had just been killed in a car crash – with Tyler sitting in the back seat of the 2004 Honda and Mikey in the front passenger seat.
So in August 2009, the priest who had just officiated at the mass for Tyler visited the Kyles’ bi-level home outside this northern Orange County hamlet.
Rev. Kevin Gallagher of Pine Bush’s Church of the Infant Saviour hugged Mikey Kyles and told him he would be there for the teen who did everything with his twin, from shooting baskets in the driveway to skateboarding around town.
“If you ever need anything, come and talk to me,” Kyles recalls Gallagher saying.
Mikey Kyles, now 22, claims Gallagher subsequently sexually abused him in the rectory behind the church – after giving him hundreds and hundreds of dollars over a few years to buy drugs for a heroin habit that Kyles has since kicked. He claims the abuse started when he was 19.
“He was feeding me money to get close to me; he knew what he was doing,” says Kyles in the home where Gallagher first offered his help. “He groomed me. He found a broken kid and when I needed the help the most he abused me.”
Because of that year-old allegation to the Archdiocese of New York, Gallagher, 63, has been forbidden to serve as a priest.
“Father Gallagher was removed from his position as pastor following an allegation of improper behavior that involved possible criminal activity,” said Joseph Zwilling, spokesman for the archdiocese, who noted the allegation against Gallagher – the first – was shared with the Orange County District Attorney’s Office “which has been investigating the matter.”
“He will not be permitted to serve as a priest in this archdiocese or anywhere else,” said a February statement sent to the parishioners of Infant Saviour by the Auxiliary Bishop of New York, Gerald Walsh, the vicar for clergy.
The statement, sent after Gallagher moved back to Pine Bush “despite the very strong request and recommendation of the archdiocese that he not do so” specifies the archdiocese’s actions in no uncertain terms:
“Not only is he here without our approval, he also does not have the ‘faculties’ to serve as a priest – that is, he does not have an assignment, he is not permitted to publicly function as a priest and he should not present himself as a priest.”
The action against Gallagher – who is still in Pine Bush – came after friends of Kyles first reported Gallagher’s alleged behavior to the archdiocese last spring. The archdiocese in June sent Gallagher “for evaluation and therapy.”
“As Father Gallagher wrote to you in November,” the statement says, “there has been an allegation brought against him of inappropriate conduct with an adult (Kyles was 19 when the alleged abuse occurred).The matter is under investigation and at least until the matter is resolved, which we hope will be soon,” Gallagher will not be allowed to serve as a priest.
Kyles and his close friends say they’ve been interviewed by archdiocese authorities, its investigator and the Orange County District Attorney’s office.
Although a spokesman for the District Attorney’s office notes that the office policy is not to comment on – or even acknowledge – an investigation, the archdiocese on Monday said that investigation is “ongoing” and it has been “cooperating fully” with it.
But because the alleged abuse started when Kyles was 19, he can’t be treated as a minor, which makes prosecution difficult.
When reached by telephone Tuesday at his Pine Bush apartment, Gallagher said, “I have no comment.”
But a close friend of Gallagher’s, who is living on the same Pine Bush property as the priest, acknowledged what he called the priest’s “improper relationship” with Kyles but denied that the priest gave him hundreds and hundreds of dollars to fuel a heroin habit.
“Every single allegation except the improper relationship he had with Michael was falsified,” said Tommy Tocco, who tried to get Kyles to sign a document saying the allegations were false. “He (Kyles) is 21-22 years old. He’s not an altar boy. This Michael is a predator.”
Tocco says Gallagher “only” gave Kyles about $20 for suboxone – an anti-heroin drug – even though he says he asked for much more. Kyles and his girlfriend, Marigrace Gordon, a drug abuse counselor, strongly dispute that.
At least one Catholic priest, the Rev. James McGuffey of Carteret, N.J., and at least one local school official are aware of the allegations of abuse.
“It is something we know is true,” says McGuffey of St. Joseph Parish. Not only is he an uncle of Kyles’ girlfriend, he also confronted Gallagher when the priest wanted Kyles to sign a statement denying the abuse.
Drug abuse begins
The story of how Mikey Kyles was allegedly abused by a priest echoes that of the victims of another Orange County priest, the late Edward Pipala. He was defrocked and sent to prison for abusing dozens of boys after he abused the faith of those boys and their families – families who trusted the priest so much, one gave him a T-shirt that read “Trust Me I’m a Father” even as the priest plied that troubled teen with beer and abused him.
It’s the story of a priest who allegedly preyed on a vulnerable, drug-addicted teenager who depended on the priest to feed his addiction – until the teen’s family helped set him free by reporting the abuse and Kyles discovered a newfound faith. It’s also a story Kyles wants heard in the hopes that other young men who may also be imprisoned by abuse have the strength to speak out.
It begins shortly after Tyler Kyles died on that rainy August night. That’s when Mikey Kyles started abusing the drug that’s become so common it’s been used by one of every 20 high school seniors in Orange County– Oxycodone, according to a report by an Orange County task force.
Mikey liked the drug so much – especially when he snorted it – he soon began spending more than $500 of his $550-a-week restaurant salary on it. But when the synthetic opiate got too expensive, he eventually did what so many opiod users do – turn to cheaper heroin, which sold for about $10 per bag compared to about $30 per pill for Oxycodone.
He says he met another heroin user in Pine Bush. Not only did they get their drug money by “boosting” from the mall – stealing goods from shops and then returning them for cash – the other user told him of another, easier way to get money – from Father Gallagher. The priest apparently gave the user all the money he wanted for heroin – “$20, $50, $70, $100, $200,” according to Kyles, who says he was soon getting the same amounts of money from Gallagher, who was also comforting and counseling Mikey over the loss of Tyler.
Not only would Kyles get that cash in the rectory behind the church, he would meet Gallagher for dinner at local diners, including the buffet behind Wal-Mart at Orange Plaza in the Town of Wallkill. Once Gallagher gave him the money – which Kyles says he often told the priest was for suboxone – Kyles would run to the bathroom where his dealer was waiting with the drugs.
“Kevin had to know it was heroin,” says Kyles, still calling him what he called him then. “He just had to.”
Kyles was soon visiting Gallagher regularly in the rectory, which he and his girlfriend Gordon say was littered with piles of dirty dishes, rodent feces and leftover McDonald’s burgers for the priest’s dog, Scrappy. Kyles and his girlfriend say that another drug user was apparently staying there – in a room that reeked of marijuana and was littered with bongs and rolling papers. They also say that every time Kyles would broach the subject of treatment for his drug problem, Gallagher would change the subject.
This is when Kyles says Gallagher started calling him “beautiful.” When they sat on a couch, the priest would stroke his head, kiss his cheek, offer him a Hennessey cognac and say, “Don’t worry, Tyler is with you.”
Kyles says he was repulsed – and scared – by the priest, but his craving for heroin overwhelmed him.
“I hated going over there,” he says. “But I loved the drug.”
He particularly hated it when the priest put his hand beneath his shirt and rubbed his chest or reached beneath his pants to stroke his leg – so much so that he started wearing long underwear on his visits to the rectory. But the craving for the drug was so strong that when Gallagher told him to think of his girlfriend to arouse himself, he did. That is when Kyles say the oral sex occurred.
Finally, Kyles told Gordon, a drug abuse counselor for Catholic Charities, what was happening. That’s when her family first contacted the archdiocese.
That was last spring.
And that’s when the sordid tale of events should have ended.
But soon after the archdiocese was contacted, Gallagher asked his friend Tocco to bring Kyles to the church. Kyles says he was told he was about to meet with the archdiocese. Instead, the priest wanted Kyles to sign a document saying the abuse never happened.
Rev. McGuffey, the uncle of Gordon who was in Pine Bush that day visiting family, was alerted to what was happening at the church. He rushed over to the parish because he thought Kyles might be in danger.
When the New Jersey priest confronted the Pine Bush priest, after Tocco drove Kyles away, he says Gallagher “went into a wild rampage,” screaming at him to get out of the church.
After the archdiocese sent Gallagher for what its spokesman Zwilling terms “evaluation and residential care,” he was removed from his duties as a priest.
Today, Mikey Kyles, who was spiritually imprisoned by drugs and sexual abuse, says he has been set free. After a short period of rehabilitation, he is free of his drug addiction – and about 50 pounds heavier than he was during that addiction. He volunteers at the Montgomery nursing home. He wears a crucifix with “St. Benedict, Protector of Evil,” written on it. And he sits in the wooden pews of the church once led by the man he says abused him and prays: “That God will speak through me.”