The controversy continues in the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach, FL as further revelations call into question the actions of Father John Gallagher, the Irish priest who exposed a pedophile in 2015.
Last week, Fr. Gallagher spoke to many media outlets in Ireland and in the US claiming he was “frozen out” and punished by the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach for acting as a whistleblower and presenting information on a pedophile priest to authorities.
Gallagher, 48, originally from Strabane in Co. Tyrone, alleged he was told by the Catholic Church to put a pedophile priest on a plane back to his native India rather than cooperate with the police.
The Irish priest states he did not follow this advice and contacted the police, a decision he believes he is now being punished for.
He alleges he was placed on medical leave after blowing the whistle on Father Jose Palimattom and that the locks on his parochial home were changed while he was in the hospital.
Palimattom was arrested two months into his assignment in the parish for showing pornographic images to a 14-year-old boy after Mass in January 2015.
Gallagher’s claims have been met with anger by the Catholic Church in Florida, which has accused him of “blatantly lying” and painting a picture of a problem-priest slighted because he was overlooked for a promotion.
Speaking to the Palm Beach Post, diocese employees and parishioners of Gallagher’s presented a vastly different image of Fr Gallagher from the one of 'an inspirational priest taking a stand against those higher up in the Church' that he offered.
Instead, these people claim that Fr. John Gallagher was an egotistical “evil-doer” turning his parishioners away with insulting comments about Hispanic parishioners, his harassment of a Cuban priest and the manner in which he expected church employees to staff the bar he had installed in his living room while hosting his own “high roller” parties.
Noting that he bounced between 11 pastoral assignments since moving to Florida in 2000, the Palm Beach Post reported that Gallagher's disagreement with the diocesan bishop, Bishop Gerald Barbarito, began when 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.’’
As well as discrediting Gallagher's assertions through two press releases last week, Bishop Barbarito wrote a letter to be read out at Mass over this past weekend, addressing Gallagher and his “unfounded allegations.”
“Our Diocese in no way, as Fr. Gallagher erroneously asserts, tried to ‘cover up’ the inappropriate behavior of a visiting priest, Father José Palimattom, who was assisting at Holy Name of Jesus Parish, which Father Gallagher administered,” the Bishop 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.”
Bishop Barbarito reiterated that the incident was not related to Gallagher not being made pastor of the parish and called on parishioners to pray for the Irish priest.
“I truly regret Father Gallagher’s behavior for which there is no founded reason. We have wonderful, hard-working and dedicated priests in the Diocese of Palm Beach to whom I am deeply grateful. Father Gallagher’s harmful assertions are an embarrassment to my brother priests as well as to me,” he continued.
Barbarito himself has not spoken to the media although he has authorized those who worked for Gallagher or who were members of his parish to speak to the press.
“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.
Many complaints were made by Hispanic parishioners at Holy Name about their treatment under Gallagher, who allegedly called the police if Hispanic children were playing basketball on church grounds. It is also reported that he accused his Hispanic parishioners of not contributing enough to the collection plate.
A Cuban priest, Father Jose Crucet, has spoken out about his own dealings with Gallagher, claiming he was harassed by the Irish man and eventually forced to move to another parish.
“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.”
“I looked in the English dictionary to find a word that properly reflects who he is. That word is ‘evil-doer,’”he told the Palm Beach Post.
“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.”
Gallagher's attorney referred to these allegations as a “smear campaign,” implying that his client was willing to resort to similar allegations if they continued.
Robert Flummerfelt, an attorney with Canon Law Services in Las Vegas, said: “This shows what they are about — retaliation. That’s all there is. If they want to go down and fight in the gutter with Father Gallagher, he can do the same thing.”
Now on his eleventh assignment in Florida, Fr. Gallagher hasn’t reported to St. Joseph’s in Stuart since his transfer in Spring 2015 and he has not informed 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,’’ Fr 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.’”
Gallagher does have his supporters, however, with many struggling to believe any claims made by the church thanks to previous scandals.
A spokesperson for the diocese also reported there had been calls made last week asking for Gallagher’s reinstatement.
Hero or “evil-doer”? What are your thoughts on Father John Gallagher and the diocese reaction to his allegations?