Lawsuit to Allege Abuse of Altar Boy

My Fox Philly
April 6, 2011

[with video]

PHILADELPHIA - Attorneys for the family of a former suburban Philadelphia altar boy who committed suicide after his allegation of sexual abuse by a priest was dismissed say they plan to file a wrongful death suit against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Relatives of the man called "Ben" in a scathing grand jury report earlier this year on alleged priest abuse said through their attorneys that they hope the lawsuit will help protect other children. The complaint may be filed as early as Wednesday in Common Pleas Court.

"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," the family said in a statement through their attorneys Tuesday.

A grand jury earlier this year accused church officials of downplaying at least two complaints that the Rev. Joseph Gallagher molested boys and frequently talked to them about masturbation during confession.

One of the complaints was made in 2007 by Ben, then 36, who said he was fondled while he was an altar boy at St. Mark Parish in Bristol. He was told the following year that a review board could not substantiate his allegation, and took his own life less than a year later, the report said.

An earlier complaint against Gallagher was dismissed because the man who reported it said it occurred around 1968 or 1969, before Gallagher arrived in 1970. The grand jury wrote that the discrepancy about dates "could have amounted to mere months."

Gallagher is retired and had no listed phone number. According to the grand jury report, he first "flatly denies" the allegation by Ben then is "more evasive."

The diocese in February suspended Gallagher and two other priests and vowed to reopen complaints against almost three dozen others. Officials have since suspended a total of 23 priests. In addition, prosecutors have charged a former high-ranking archdiocese official with child endangerment, and child rape charges have been filed against two priests, a former priest and a former Catholic schoolteacher.

A spokesman for the archdiocese declined comment Tuesday, citing the pending litigation.

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