|Bucks Family Sues Archdiocese over Son's Death
By James McGinnis
April 7, 2011
Relatives of the late Daniel Neill say he provided the church with "compelling evidence" of abuse before committing suicide.
A local woman said her son committed suicide in 2009 after Archdiocese of Philadelphia officials chose not to believe his allegations and "compelling evidence" of sexual abuse in the 1980s by a priest at St. Mark Church in Bristol.
"I am not looking for anything other than for the church to believe me," Daniel Neill's family members said they remember him saying often before his suicide.
In a wrongful death lawsuit against the archdiocese and Cardinal Justin Rigali filed Wednesday in Philadelphia Court, Neill's mother, Mary Neill of Bristol, and sister, Michelle Forsyth of Middletown, allege he was repeatedly abused by the Rev. Joseph Gallagher.
An archdiocesan spokesman declined to comment Wednesday on the suit.
Gallagher, who once served as assistant pastor at Saint Mark in Bristol, was suspended in February by the archdiocese following the release of a second Philadelphia grand jury report on abuse in the church.
The Neill family lawsuit alleges that church officials failed to protect their son and other children. In 1980, Neill, then age 10, first reported the abuse to the school principal who "called him a liar and threatened Daniel that his family would be disgraced if he persisted in making his report of sexual abuse," according to the lawsuit. The principal is not named in the suit.
"Despite compelling evidence of child abuse and other inappropriate behavior by Father Gallagher, Cardinal Rigali and his agents took no action to protect children from him," according to the suit. While Rigali was not head of the archdiocese when the abuse against Neill is alleged to have occurred, he was at the helm in 2006, when Neill again tried to get the church to listen to him.
The alleged abuse continued even after Neill complained to the principal, the family said in the court paperwork.
When he reached out to the church again five years ago, Neill relayed his story to an archdiocese victim's assistance coordinator, according to the grand jury. He said he was fondled, probed and later punched by Gallagher, according to the report.
His allegations were later detailed in the 2011 Philadelphia grand jury report, which identified him under the pseudonym "Ben."
Investigators said Neill provided the church with details about the interior of the priest's mother's house, including a "pink, frilly bedroom," where he allegedly was fondled by Gallagher.
Investigators said that a second boy came forward with allegations of fondling by the same priest.
Church officials contacted Neill in 2008, advising him that his allegations were deemed unsubstantiated and not credible, according to the grand jury.
He committed suicide 11 months later at age 38, the family said.
The lawsuit seeks more than $150,000 in damages for conspiracy to endanger children, fraudulent concealment and wrongful death.
Through her attorney, Neill's mother released the following statement:
"We carefully and cautiously take this action today hoping that from this loss and from our grief, some good can come, and that the children of this community can be better protected and be believed when they find the will and the way to report abuse of all kinds. It is simply our desire to perhaps get the archdiocese officials to recognize their obligations and to do a better job of healing the wounded and protecting the children - instead of being concerned about their reputation."
Meanwhile, the allegations in the 2011 grand jury report continue to echo through both the church and the court system.
This is the fourth sexual abuse lawsuit brought against the archdiocese since the grand jury report was released. Attorneys said the report has emboldened their clients to come forward.
The archdiocese suspended 23 priests after the most recent report.
The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office has filed criminal charges against three priests, a former priest and a teacher. The Rev. James Brennan was arrested and accused of raping a 14-year-old boy he met during his tenure as parochial vicar at St. Andrew Parish in Newtown.
Bernard Shero, a former parochial school teacher from Bristol, the Rev. Charles Engelhardt and the defrocked James Avery are accused of sexually assaulting another boy they met during their tenure at St. Jerome Parish in Philadelphia.
Monsignor William Lynn, former secretary of the clergy, faces charges of child endangerment for allegedly reassigning priests but not telling anyone of complaints made against them.
No criminal charges came out of the first grand jury report released in 2005 since any statues of limitation had expired. The law has since been changed. Victims now have until age 50, instead of age 30, to report their abuse.
James McGinnis can be reached at 215-949-3248 or email@example.com For instant news updates, follow Jim at www.twitter.com/james_mcginnis
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