Palm Beach diocese denies demoting priest for reporting abuse-related activities

by Sarah Mac Donald

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The diocese of Palm Beach has hit back at claims by one of its priests that he has been ostracized for helping to prosecute a suspected pedophile priest who was jailed for six months for having shown a 14-year-old parishioner up to 40 pornographic images on his phone.

The Catholic Whistleblowers network, which is dedicated to exposing abuse cover-ups, has weighed in in support of Fr. John Gallagher, claiming the diocese of Palm Beach demoted him because he wasn't "silent about alleged sexual abuse of minor children."

Irish-born Gallagher has served in Palm Beach since 2000 and claims he was stood down from his role in the parish of the Holy Name of Jesus Christ in West Palm Beach for reporting abuse-related activities concerning Franciscan​ Fr Jose Palimattom, a visiting priest from India, who had been at the parish of the Holy Name of Jesus Christ for just four weeks in December 2014 when a complaint was made.

Speaking to the Pat Kenny Radio Show Jan. 27 in Ireland, the 48-year-old priest also claimed that when he contacted the diocese to report the incident the morning after it had been reported to him, the diocesan official told him, "We've dealt with this before, we normally put them on a plane and send them back."

When he told the diocesan official that he was cooperating with the sheriff he was told, "Well you don't have to give them all the information."

According to Gallagher, when he related the fact to the official that the incident between Palimattom and the boy had been captured by a security camera, "they asked me not to reveal that information to the sheriff's office."

In his radio interview, Gallagher alleged that the diocese removed his possessions from his parochial house and changed the locks on his home and his office.

He said shortly after April 1, 2015, "things came to a head between the diocese and myself. They told me you don't think and operate with the same mindset as we operate with."

Police believe Palimattom was grooming the teen. Palimattom served a six-month sentence and was given a year's probation and deported from the U.S.

Related: Indian Franciscan accused of showing child pornography to minor

On Thursday, Jan. 28, the diocese of Palm Beach issued a news statement in which it revealed that Palimattom had been invited to serve in the parish of the Holy Name of Jesus Christ by Gallagher. It said that during its screening process, no prior misconduct was revealed.

The statement, which was issued by Dianne Laubert, communications director for the Florida diocese, said it was "deeply disheartened and troubled" by the allegations of Gallagher and stated that it could no longer stand by in "relative silence when we know the allegations are a complete inaccurate representation of the facts."

Elsewhere it stated Gallagher "was not named as pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Church for a number of reasons not related to the incident involving Father Palimattom," and that "access to [Gallagher's] residence was never denied him, nor was he refused sacraments."

"At his request, he was placed on leave and continues to receive salary, health insurance and benefits," the statement continued.

According to the diocese, the County Tyrone-born priest was assigned to a different parish as parochial vicar and was due to begin there July 1, 2015, but he never took up the assignment because he asked to be put on medical leave, which was granted by Bishop Gerald Barbarito.

But Gallagher told media that he was "threatened by the diocese, offered a denotation, and I was asked to resign from priesthood."

In his interview with the Pat Kenny Radio Show he said the diocese told him "We are not happy with your performance or what you have done."

According to Gallagher, he had been operating as a one-man parish with nine Mases. "My collection went up 12% and I took $147,000 off the debt in the time that I was there. The people voted with their feet and their support and our Mass attendance went up."

He also highlighted that when he came out of the hospital after his suspected heart attack, the interim pastor in the parish, in addition to changing the locks, had "asked for my keys from Sr. Ann Monahan, a Dominican of over 67 years, and because she had been in my room getting stuff for me he fired her instantly on the spot and he escorted her off the premises like a criminal."

Gallagher said that he contacted both the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and the Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors about this matter, but he received no reply or acknowledgement.

He also revealed that Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston, who heads up the Vatican safeguarding commission, telephoned him from Rome on Oct. 8, and told him to take a vacation.

NCR sought a response from the archdiocese of Boston on this but received no reply.

According to Gallagher, he decided to go public about the row because after 24 years as a priest, his "legal counsel said to me you have nowhere else to go but into the public domain -- you've given the church every opportunity."

The Catholic Whistleblowers Steering Committee demanded in their statement that the officials of the Catholic Church, including Pope Francis, "intervene justly in this matter."

"It is outrageous that Fr. John Gallagher, who has been complimented and lauded by law enforcement officials for contacting them about alleged sexual abuse of a minor child by a priest, is not being treated as a hero by Catholic Church officials, including his bishop," they said.

The Catholic Whistleblowers group demanded that Gallagher "be restored immediately to priestly ministry with all related faculties, benefits, and apologies."

In addition, they said Barbarito should be fired immediately by Pope Francis for his mishandling of the matter.

[Sarah Mac Donald is a journalist based in Dublin.]

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