Child Abuse Whistleblower Father John Gallagher Files Libel Suit Against Palm Beach Diocese

WEST PALM BEACH (January 11, 2017) — Rev. John Gallagher sued the Palm Beach Diocese today for libel, saying he was punished for successfully exposing a visiting priest as a pedophile rather than covering it up.

Father Gallagher’s efforts, that led to the priest’s conviction and deportation, won him praise from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office but condemnation from the Palm Beach Diocese and particularly Bishop Gerald Barbarito, who is also being placed on notice today to appear at a deposition in this case. The 23-page suit, filed today in Palm Beach Circuit Court, accuses the Diocese of orchestrating a cover-up and campaign of intimidation, slander and libel directed at Father Gallagher and thereby effectively destroying his ability to remain a priest. The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Today, Gallagher, 49, a Northern Ireland native, priest for more than 24 years, and former pastor-in-charge of Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in West Palm Beach, remains as a priest, but is affiliated with no parish and barred from performing pastoral duties.

The lawsuit, filed by Theodore Babbitt, founding partner in Babbitt & Johnson in West Palm Beach, says: “Plaintiff 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. “

More broadly, the suit takes direct aim at the Vatican and Pope Francis, who suit scrapped his own earlier proposal to establish a tribunal to prosecute bishops who cover up for pedophile priests, and has, according to reports, even welcomed back into the priesthood a pastor who had been defrocked for molesting children in his confessional.

The suit says: “What has happened to Father John Gallagher shows without question that the Catholic Church has learned nothing from its history and continues to cover up acts of priest pedophilia 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.”

“Today is a sad day” Father Gallagher said at a news conference. “Thirty years of my life has been destroyed by the Roman church.”

The controversy started in early January 2015 when Rev. Gallagher, then Parochial Administrator (priest in charge) of Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in West Palm Beach, helped investigators to prosecute a fellow priest who showed child porn to a teenager. That priest, Jose Varkey 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 suit says, the diocese went into cover-up mode, ignoring or seeking to stop Father Gallagher’s repeated efforts to get the Church to follow its self-proclaimed policy of “zero tolerance” toward sexual abuse of children. Rather than focus on child molesters, the suit said, the diocese launched a campaign to discredit and defame Rev. Gallagher. The stress drove Rev. Gallagher into a hospital on May 23, 2015, with an apparent heart attack and a hostile, confrontational bedside visit from Bishop Gerald Barbarito, who accused the priest of faking illness. Father Gallagher was discharged only to find that the locks had been changed to his church and home, essentially rendering him homeless. Six days later, Father Gallagher asked Sister Anne Monahan, 84, a Dominican nun of 67 years, to retrieve his personal files. The Palm Beach Diocese caught her in the act and fired her on the spot, the suit said.

The persecution of Father Gallagher entered new territory in late January 2016, when the Diocese issued two news releases designed to discredit him, and Bishop Barbarito ordered each of his pastors to read to every Mass s a letter denying any cover-up and accusing Father Gallagher of lying, “causing harm to the Church” and causing “embarrassment to my brother priests as well as me.” During that week, Diocese representatives made harsh statements about Father Gallagher, such as: “Father Gallagher is blatantly lying and is in need of professional assistance as well as our prayers and our mercy.”
About Babbitt & Johnson
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