Irish priest sues his Florida diocese for defamation in row over paedophile cleric
An Irish priest is suing his diocese in the United States in a row over paedophile priests.
Fr John Gallagher appeared at a press conference in Florida on Wednesday alongside his lawyer after filing a defamation case against the Palm Beach Diocese
The priest alleged his diocese cut off communication with him two years ago for notifying police when he learned a visiting priest from India had been showing child porn to a teenage boy.
Fr Jose Palimatton was arrested, convicted and jailed.
Fr Gallagher said the diocese demoted him, removed his belongings from the rectory and changed the locks so he couldn't get back in.
Asked by reporters at the press conference what he hoped to achieve with the lawsuit, Fr Gallagher responded: "Vindication and clearing of my name. I did what was right. I upheld the law and I followed their law. And this is how I've been treated.”
Gallagher alleged he has been unable to work as a priest ever since and claims his diocese wants him to seek treatment at a facility for deviant priests.
A mediation process between the priest and his bishop Gerald Barbarito broke down last year.
The 23-page lawsuit, 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 Tyrone man, a former pastor-in-charge of Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in West Palm Beach, remains as a priest, but is technically on sick leave, affiliated with no parish and without pastoral duties.
The lawsuit, filed by lawyer Theodore Babbitt, 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, the suit says, scrapped the Pope’s own proposal to establish a tribunal to prosecute bishops who cover up for paedophile priests, and, allegedly 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.”
The controversy started in early January 2015 when Fr 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, Joseph (Jose) Palimatton, pleaded guilty, served six months, and was deported in June 2015 to his native India.
The Diocese says it will defend the defamation case and re-issued a statement issued last year.
It reads: “The Diocese of Palm Beach acted in a prompt, thorough, and cooperative manner in regard to Father Palimattom. Father Gallagher was not in any way demoted or removed because of the incident.
"He was not named as pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Church for a number of reasons not related to the incident involving Father Palimattom. He was given a new assignment with all the reasons explained to him."