Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland priest Gallagher who exposed US abuse sues Church for libel

By Staff Reporter

A Co Tyrone priest living in the US has launched a libel case in Florida after he accused the Catholic Church there of orchestrating a child abuse cover-up.

Strabane native Fr John Gallagher is suing the Palm Beach Diocese following his successful efforts two years ago to prosecute a fellow priest for showing child porn images to a teenager.

Fr Gallagher's efforts won him praise from the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office but condemnation from the Palm Beach Diocese, and particularly Bishop Gerald Barbarito.

The bishop is also being placed on notice to appear at a deposition in this case.

The 23-page lawsuit, filed yesterday in Palm Beach Circuit Court, accuses the diocese of orchestrating a cover-up and campaign of intimidation, slander and libel directed at Fr Gallagher and effectively destroying his ability to remain a priest.

Fr Gallagher is the former pastor-in-charge of Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in West Palm Beach.

The lawsuit states Fr Gallagher was "damaged in his reputation and his livelihood, and his ability to serve in his chosen profession as a priest has been greatly diminished or eliminated. These defamations will live forever on the internet and will follow plaintiff throughout his life".

"What has happened to Fr John Gallagher shows without question that the Catholic Church has learned nothing from its history and continues to cover up acts of priest paedophilia even at the expense of its own priests, and that a priest who cooperates with authorities to prosecute child sexual harassment will suffer at the hands of his own Church," the lawsuit adds.

The controversy started in early January 2015 when Fr Gallagher helped investigators to prosecute a fellow clergyman who showed child porn to a teen.

Joseph 'Jose' Palimatton pleaded guilty, served six months, and was deported in June 2015 to his native India.

Almost as soon as the incident was reported the diocese went into cover-up mode, ignoring or seeking to stop Fr Gallagher's repeated efforts to get the Church to follow its self-proclaimed policy of "zero tolerance" toward sexual abuse of children.

But rather than deal with child molesters, the lawsuit states the diocese launched a campaign to discredit and defame Fr Gallagher.

The stress drove Fr Gallagher into a hospital in May 2015 with an apparent heart attack, and a hostile, confrontational bedside visit from Bishop Barbarito, who accused the priest of faking illness.

Fr Gallagher was discharged only to find that the locks had been changed to his church and home. Six days later he asked an 84-year-old Dominican nun to retrieve his personal files. The Palm Beach Diocese caught her in the act and fired her on the spot, the suit said.

In January 2016 the diocese issued two news releases designed to discredit him, and Bishop Barbarito ordered each of his pastors to read to every Mass a letter denying any cover-up and accusing Fr Gallagher of lying, "causing harm to the Church" and causing "embarrassment to my brother priests as well as me".

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