|Suit Charges 'Wrongful Death' Result of Abuse by Priest
By John P. Martin
April 6, 2011
It was one of the more searing allegations in the recent Philadelphia grand jury report on clergy sex abuse:
A Bristol Township man killed himself after the Archdiocese of Philadelphia refused to believe that a priest molested him when he was an altar boy.
On Wednesday, relatives of the man, Daniel Neill, became the latest to sue the archdiocese over its handling of cases of alleged sexual abuse.
Neill fatally shot himself in 2009.
"It's a wrongful death is what it is," said Jeff Anderson, one of the lawyers for the Neill's family.
The handling of Neill's complaint was one of three cited in the grand jury report as an example of the archdiocese's failure to act on complaints that seemed credible. The grand jury report didn't indentify Neill by name, but described his case under the pseudonym "Ben."
That report has spawned criminal charges against four current or former priests, four lawsuits from alleged victims, and the suspension of more than two dozen priests while the church re-examines past complaints against them of sexual abuse or misconduct around minors.
One of those on administrative leave is the Rev. Joseph J. Gallagher, the priest Neill said repeatedly molested him when he was an altar boy at St. Mark's in Bristol in 1980 and 1981.
Filed by Neill's sister, Michelle Forsyth, and his mother, Mary Neill, the lawsuit says that Daniel Neill reported the abuse to the school principal at St. Mark's in 1980 but that his complaint was ignored. According to the lawsuit, the principal "called Daniel a liar and threatened Daniel that his family would be disgraced if he persisted" with the accusations.
The lawsuit does not identify the school principal by name.
Neill, a department store worker and aspiring actor who had bit parts on television shows, reported the attacks to the archdiocese's victim-assistance program in 2007. According to the grand jury report, it was the second complaint against Gallagher in about a year.
Neill allegedly gave church investigators vivid details about the abuse and names of other altar boys, the grand jury found.
One told investigators the priest had "improper relationships" with students but wouldn't elaborate, the grand jury said.
Others allegedly confirmed aspects of Neill's accounts - like the priests habit of hearing boys' confessions in a church loft and asking them about masturbation. The grand jury report did not refer to any other victims or witnesses of abuse by the priest.
Gallagher at first denied the allegations, then became "more evasive" in his answers to investigators, according to the grand jury report.
An independent archdiocesan review board ultimately ruled it could not substantiate the complaints against Gallagher. In July 2008, a victim-assistance coordinator told Neill the board's decision.
He killed himself the following June.
According to the grand jury report, Neill's mother told the coordinator a week after his death that her son had "so many disappointments in his life" and had been "really hurt" when church officials couldn't substantiate his accusations.
Mary Neill declined requests for interviews with the Inquirer last month. In a statement released by their lawyers, the family said they decided to file the suit in the hopes of forcing church officials "to do a better job" protecting children and healing the wounded.
"Our family member said more than once, 'I am not looking for anything other than for the Church to believe me,' " the statement said. "We are filing this lawsuit for him."
Like the others before it, the lawsuit accuses the archdiocese and Cardinal Justin Rigali of civil conspiracy and fraud for its handling of abuse allegations and response to victims. It also adds a separate wrongful death claim for Neill's death.
Archdiocesan officials have previously declined to comment on the grand jury allegations about Gallagher.
Before his suspension, Gallagher was retired but assisting at area parishes, including St. Jerome and St. Timothy in Philadelphia and St. Thomas Aquinas in Croydon, Bucks County, according to the grand jury.
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