The Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach, Florida has claimed that Father John Gallagher, the Irish priest who made headlines earlier this week alleging that he is being punished by his parish for whistleblowing against a pedophile colleague, is “blatantly lying” and “in need of professional assistance.”
Father Gallagher, a native of Co. Tyrone, spoke out on Monday against what he described as the diocese’s mishandling of a sexual abuse case involving a visiting priest, as well as the apparently punitive actions taken against Fr. Gallagher since he reported the abuse to authorities – being demoted and locked out of his parochial house.
In January 2015, Gallagher, 48, who has served in Florida since 2000, helped to report criminal misconduct by Fr. Jose Palimattom, a priest of the Franciscan Province of St Thomas the Apostle in India, who was serving a two-year residency at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in West Palm Beach.
Palimattom, who had been at the parish for just one month, approached a 14-year-old boy one day after Mass and showed him as many as 40 images of naked boys. Police later classified this as an attempt to “groom” the boy for future encounters.
Gallagher claims that he went against a church official’s instructions to put Fr. Palimattom on a plane to Bangalore and “not keep written notes” of the incident. Rather than following the Church’s instruction to “make him go away,” Gallagher interviewed Fr. Palimattom along with one of his parishioners, a retired police officer, who took notes at the meeting.
Palimattom admitted to showing nude pictures of boys to the teen. He also admitted that he had sexually assaulted boys in India before arriving in the US. A few hours later he repeated this confession to detectives from the specialist unit of the West Palm Beach Police.
Gallagher contacted the police, following the rules the Catholic Church had set down after hundreds of cases of sexual abuse carried out by the clergy on children.
At the time, the Palm Beach diocese released a statement saying that despite prior investigation they had no knowledge of Palimattom’s previous assaults in India, despite conducting a background check. ABC news reported that Palimattom admitted the prior assaults, saying they were not on record as they had not been reported to police. It was also claimed by the media that Palimattom was under orders from the Church to avoid being in the company of minors without other adults in attendance.
Now, in what the Palm Beach Post described as “an extraordinary public rebuttal,” the Palm Beach Diocese has stated that they are “very disappointed in the actions of Father John Gallagher who, through a complete misrepresentation of the case of Father Jose Palimattom, has brought unfair and slanderous allegations against the Church and the Diocese of Palm Beach.”
They further suggest that this is not the first time they have been “disappointed” by Fr. Gallagher, claiming that he has “acted in a manner in other situations in the past and has been given every opportunity for correction, including the possibility of professional assistance,” and imply that the Irish priest greatly exaggerated his role in reporting Fr. Palimattom’s crime to authorities. This is despite the fact that police have praised Fr. Gallagher for his help with the case, writing to Church leaders including Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the head of the Pontifical Commission for Child Protection, a group established by Pope Francis in 2014.
Chief Deputy in the Palm Beach County Sheriff's office Michael Gauger, who has been a cop for 44 years, wrote, “Due to Fr. Gallagher's co-operation the case was swiftly resolved and the opportunity for additional crimes was diminished.
He urged Cardinal O'Malley to ensure the Irish priest received “accolades for his compliance with criminal investigators” and note that this was not the first time that the Church has impeded investigations.
The diocese, however, contents that“Father Gallagher is blatantly lying and is in need of professional assistance as well as our prayers and mercy.”
The diocese also expressed disappointment in the media’s handling of Fr. Gallagher’s complaints, adding “The Diocese is very concerned regarding the manner in which the media is presenting this case, especially when the Diocese had released to it information that should have caused more than reasonable caution in presenting misleading information from Father Gallagher.”
Gallagher, who has not yet commented on the statement, has claimed that the Bishop of Palm Beach, Gerald Barbarito, demoted him instead of giving him a promotion he was in line for, blocked his access to his parochial house after Gallagher had spend time in hospital recovering from a heart attack, and placed him on extended medical leave.
Fr. Gallagher is now staying in the vacation home of one of his former parishioners and has taken his case to the Vatican.
Yesterday in Palm Beach, a group of Fr. Gallagher’s supporters former parishioners gathered to protest the church’s treatment of him.