Protesters rally at diocese offices in support of whistleblower priest
By Joe Capozzi
Palm Beach Post
January 26, 2016
|From left to right, Mireille Kulikowski of West Palm Beach), David Pittman of the local chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) , Gina Pittman (David’s mother) and Heidi Schaeffer, vice chairman for the Kid Safe Foundation, protest outside the Diocese of Palm Beach in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, on January 26, 2016.|
PALM BEACH GARDENS —
A day after a priest blasted the Palm Beach Diocese’s handling of a sexual abuse case, diocese officials struck back, calling Father John Gallagher a liar in need of professional assistance.
In an extraordinary public rebuttal, the normally reticent diocese blasted as “unfair and slanderous” Gallagher’s assertion that he had been demoted and locked out of his parish months after reporting a fellow priest’s sex crime.
“Father Gallagher is blatantly lying and is in need of professional assistance as well as our prayers and mercy,” the diocese said in a statement.
Gallagher claimed he played a prominent role in January 2015 in turning in Father Jose Palimattom, Gallagher’s associate at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in West Palm Beach. Palimattom, a native of India, has since been convicted of showing a 14-year-old boy photos of naked boys on his cellphone.
In a story first published in the Irish Independent newspaper, Gallagher said he was due to be promoted in April but instead Palm Beach Diocese Bishop Gerald Barbarito demoted him with no explanation, moving him to a Stuart church.
Four weeks later, Gallagher said he suffered a heart attack. But when he got out of the hospital, he told The Palm Beach Post on Monday, he returned to his parochial house to find the locks changed and a new priest in his place.
Contacted Tuesday night, Gallagher said he was not prepared to respond to the church’s statement.
Protesters picketing in front of the diocese in Palm Beach Gardens Tuesday demanded his return, with one sign saying, “Spring cleaning, the Catholic church needs to be flushed, Saint Clorox and Padre Drano.”
The diocese’s initial denials of Gallagher’s assertions raised a simple question, said protester David Pittman, a local leader for the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, also known as SNAP.
“Who do you want to believe, a priest who did the right thing, who called authorities, or an organization (the church) that for decades has protected predators and vilified victims?”
But the church said the boy’s father, not Father Gallagher, called the police, a point Gallagher had conceded on Monday. Gallagher also had been commended for his help in a letter from the sheriff’s office to a cardinal.
However, the church went further.
“Father Gallagher has publicly stated that he contacted the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office the evening the incident occurred. The sheriff’s report indicates that Father Gallagher was not the one who made the report.
“He also publicly stated that he contacted the diocese the evening the incident occurred. The Diocese of Palm Beach did not receive any communication from him until the next day. Upon learning of the allegation, the Diocese of Palm Beach immediately contacted authorities and learned that the incident had already been reported to them by the boy’s family, not Father Gallagher.”
“The Diocese of Palm Beach acted in a prompt, thorough, and cooperative manner in regard to Father Palimattom. Father Gallagher was not in any way demoted or removed because of the incident. He was not named as pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Church for a number of reasons not related to the incident involving Father Palimattom.
“He was given a new assignment with all the reasons explained to him. Access to his residence was never denied him, nor was he refused the sacraments. At his request he was placed on medical leave and continues to receive salary, health insurance and benefits.
“Father Gallagher has acted in a similar manner in other situations in the past and has been given every opportunity for correction, including the possibility of professional assistance.”
The statement concluded: “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.”
Former parishioners, including Mira Kulikowski, who had never attended a protest in her life, were among about 15 people who picketed Tuesday in front of the diocese headquarters, urging church leaders to return Gallagher to Holy Name Church. Gallagher did not attend.
Others in the group, including three people who said they were abused by priests when they were kids, called on the diocese to hold a public meeting to answer questions about Gallagher’s cause and to post the names and photos of predator priests in parish bulletins and church websites.
“Father John Gallagher has been, in his words, locked out, ostracized and run out by the local diocese. We want to know why, because he actually did the right thing. He reported a sexual predator,” Pittman said.
Pittman also called on law-enforcement authorities to investigate Gallagher’s claims that the diocese tried to obstruct him from helping authorities arrest father Jose Palimattom, who eventually was sentenced to six months in jail and one year of probation on a charge of showing obscene material to a minor.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office wrote Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, a former Palm Beach bishop, last July recommending commendations to Gallagher for helping with the case, pointing out that the local churches in the past had hindered investigations.