Pri­est says dio­cese os­tra­cized him for re­port­ing child abuse

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - NEWS - By Terry Spencer

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 about 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.

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