Priest who helped investigation sues diocese after being called a liar

By Andy Reid
Sun Sentinel
January 11, 2017

The Rev. John Gallagher, who was called a liar last year by the Diocese of Palm Beach, on Wednesday filed a libel lawsuit against church leaders he says defamed him to try to cover up wrongdoing in the church.

[with video]

A priest dubbed a liar last year by the Diocese of Palm Beach filed a libel lawsuit Wednesday, accusing church leaders of trying to cover up sexual misconduct.

The Rev. John Gallagher in 2015 helped investigators catch a priest who showed child porn to a teenager at Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in West Palm Beach, Palm Beach County sheriff's records show.

Then last year, Gallagher attracted international attention when he told reporters that he was passed over for head pastor at Holy Name after cooperating with authorities.

The diocese has called that a fabrication. On Jan. 26, 2016, the diocese issued a statement saying Gallagher was "blatantly lying" and "in need of professional assistance."

The diocese has maintained that it fully cooperated with authorities and that Gallagher didn't get the top job at Holy Name because of his poor performance there.

But Gallagher's lawsuit argues that he was "intentionally defamed as part of a cover-up for his heroic attempt to report and prevent child abuse by another Catholic priest."

Since losing his position at Holy Name, Gallagher has lost his ability to work as a priest, according to the lawsuit.

"I had no support from the Catholic community since this happened," Gallagher, 49, said Wednesday. "This is betrayal. The trust is broken. It's a very lonely experience."

The Diocese of Palm Beach declined to comment on the lawsuit, but "still stands behind" its previously released statements about Gallagher, spokeswoman Dianne Laubert said Wednesday.

The controversy arose out of a 2015 investigation into The Rev. Jose Palimattom, a visiting priest at Holy Name from India.

Authorities said that after Mass on Jan. 4, 2015, Palimattom asked a 14-year-old boy at the church to help him with trouble Palimattom said he was having with the internet browser on his cellphone.

The boy told detectives that Palimattom then opened an application "where there were over 40 open tabs of gay, child pornography," according to a recording of the interview.

The boy's family contacted the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office the night of the incident, records show.

Gallagher met with detectives the next day, records show. Gallagher's lawsuit says that when he learned of the incident, he immediately confronted Palimattom and later contacted the State Attorney's Office to learn about procedures for reporting the incident, according to the lawsuit.

Palimattom initially told detectives he wanted to talk to a lawyer before answering their questions. Investigative records show it was Gallagher who helped persuade Palimattom to talk to detectives, who then made the arrest Jan. 5, 2015.

In April 2015, Palimattom pleaded guilty to a charge of showing obscene material to a minor. He was sentenced to six months in jail and in June 2015 was deported to India.

After not getting the top pastor spot at Holy Name, Gallagher last year went public with his concerns that the diocese had discouraged him from cooperating with authorities during the Palimattom investigation.

Diocese leaders have said they fully cooperated with authorities.

Last year, the diocese responded to Gallagher's concerns by publicizing a list of criticisms of Gallagher's leadership at Holy Name. The diocese's concerns included Gallagher alienating Hispanic congregants and adding a bar and piano to his former living room at the church rectory.

Bishop Gerald Barbarito, in a Jan. 29, 2016 letter read to local congregations, wrote that Father Gallagher "made unfounded allegations against the Diocese of Palm Beach and the Church in general."

"Our diocese in no way, as Fr. Gallagher erroneously asserts, tried to 'cover up' the inappropriate behavior of a visiting priest," said Barbarito, head of the Diocese of Palm Beach.

But Gallagher's lawsuit argues that a diocese representative told him that "the normal way the diocese handled a matter like this was to send the offending priest on an airplane back home."

Gallagher said he was told not to tell authorities about security camera footage that showed the incident with the teen, according to the lawsuit. Gallagher said he was also told "not to take a lot of notes" about the incident and that "he didn't have to tell the police everything," the lawsuit said.

Gallagher on Wednesday said the diocese turned the church into "an unsafe environment for me."

"Father Gallagher needs to clear his name and needs to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again," Gallagher's attorney Ted Babbitt said. "We are going to make sure that the truth comes out."



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