Removal of " Unsuitable" Archdiocsese Priests Little Consolation to Family of Bristol Man, Attorney Says

By Jo Ciavaglia
April 9, 2013

Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Chaput reads his statement during a news conference May 4 in Philadelphia

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has permanently removed three more priests from its ministry, including a former assistant pastor at St. Mark Parish in Bristol accused of molesting altar boys in the early 1980s.

The defrocking of Rev. Joseph Gallagher, 78, who retired in 2006, brings no sense of victory to the family of Daniel Neill, who allegedly told diocesan officials in 2007 about abuse at the hands of Gallagher, but officials declined to act, says the attorney who represents his family in a lawsuit against the archdiocese.

Church officials contacted Neill in 2008, advising him that his allegations were deemed unsubstantiated and not credible, according to the grand jury. He took his own life 11 months later at age 38, the family said.

“Obviously they had a serious problem with this priest,” attorney Marci Hamilton said Monday. “It still took them four years to remove him from ministry. It is outrageous. The fact they removed him, for the family, it’s really much too little, too late.”

In a statement released Sunday, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput announced that Gallagher and the Rev. Mark Gaspar, 43, were removed from public ministry in the archdiocese citing “substantial violations of The Standards of Ministerial Behaviors and Boundaries.” The nature of the accusation against Gaspar has not been reported.

The two men were among the 26 archdiocese clergymen placed on administrative leave in March 2011 following a historic grand jury report that prompted the Catholic Church to re-examine old allegations that they molested children or acted improperly around children.

Chaput also announced that Monsignor Richard Powers, 77, another retired priest, was also deemed “not suitable for ministry.” Powers was removed over allegations he committed a sexual act with a teenage girl on an overseas trip 40 years ago. His case is not related to the grand jury report.

“After reviewing all the facts, as well as recommendations from competent external authorities, I made the decisions I feel are right and just,” Chaput said.

The three former priests will no longer be able to publicly present themselves as clergy, and they cannot administer sacraments or wear clerical garb.

In their 2011 wrongful death lawsuit against the archdiocese and former Cardinal Justin Rigali, members of Daniel Neill’s family allege 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.

Neill reached out to the church again in 2007 and 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.

For two other victims who’ve sued the archdiocese — John Doe 196 and John Doe 197 — who are also represented by Hamilton’s firm, the news that more priests have been removed is “just a fresh wound,” Hamilton said.

“It’s a reminder that the archdiocese put their needs so far down the priority list,” she added. “For them to still take two years (to remove the priests) it just shows you that private institutions cannot protect children. Only the law can do it.”

Last year, Chaput found eight priests that were placed on administrative leave following the 2011 report suitable for ministry, another seven were found unsuitable. Another priest died before a full investigation could be conducted.

Seven priests remain on administrative leave and those cases that are not being announced yet due to “a variety of reasons,” according to the archdiocese. Four cases require law enforcement agencies to release them, while three cases are currently under investigation by the archdiocese or are pending a final decision by Chaput. All cases have been referred to the local district attorney, according to the archdiocese.

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 changed and victims now have until age 50, instead of age 30, to report abuse.


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