By Greg Harkin | 26 January 2016
Fr John A Gallagher (48) is living in a friend’s home after locks at his parochial house were changed and he was placed on medical leave by his bishop in the Diocese of Palm Beach.
He claims he was told by a church official to put a paedophile priest on a plane rather than cooperate with police. A local police chief, so concerned at the Irish cleric’s treatment, wrote to church leaders to complain about how the whistle-blower is being treated.
Fr Gallagher broke his year-long silence over the affair to tell the Irish Independent that the priest from India at the centre of the abuse scandal is a danger to children. He has written to bishops and cardinals about the case – as well as Vatican officials – and has, so far, been unable to get a satisfactory response.
The astonishing case began in January last year when Fr Jose Palimattom – who had been at the parish of the Holy Name of Jesus Christ Catholic Church in West Palm Beach for just four weeks – approached a 14-year-old boy after Mass.
He showed the teenager up to 40 images of naked boys. Police believe he was in the first stages of grooming his victim.
Later that night, Palimattom sent the boy a message on Facebook which read: “Good night. Sweet dreams.”
However the teenager told a friend, who reported it to the church choirmaster, who immediately told Fr Gallagher.
The priest, from Strabane, Co Tyrone, says he was told that night by a church official in Florida: “We need to make him go away, put him on a plane.”
In documents filed to the Vatican by a specialist canon lawyer on behalf of Fr Gallagher, the priest claimed he was instructed “do not keep written notes” by the same church official.
The legal document was sent to Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome. Fr Gallagher disregarded the instruction to put Palimattom on a plane to Bangalore and instead interviewed him. A retired police officer, who took notes at the meeting, told the Irish Independent that the Indian priest not only admitted showing nude pictures of boys to the local teenager, but also admitted he had sexually assaulted young boys in India before arriving in the US.
It was a confession he would repeat to detectives of the West Palm Beach Police, and Palimattom was later convicted on a felony charge of showing obscene material to a child.
Fr Gallagher said he immediately called the Sheriff’s Department of the West Palm Beach Police, following rules set down by the Church after hundreds of child sex abuse scandals. He says he began to feel “the wrath” of the Church.
“It was made clear to me that what I had done (co-operating with the police) wasn’t what I should have done,” he told the Irish Independent.
“It was a very distressing time for me and the parish. We had a special Mass and I told the congregation what had happened. I told them it was now in the hands of the rightful authorities, the police.” In late April, he says, he was called to a meeting by the Bishop of Palm Beach, Gerald Barbarito, where he thought he was going to be promoted.
Instead he was told to continue in his role for another year. However, the following day the decision was reversed.
“He told me I was being demoted,” said Fr Gallagher.
“No reason was given. He said if I didn’t wish to be demoted and moved to another parish, I should leave the priesthood.”
Less than four weeks later, Fr Gallagher was rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack. Six days later he asked Sr Ann Monahan to retrieve files on the Palimattom scandal from his office at the Holy Name of Jesus Christ Church.
She managed to do this, but when she returned later, she was stopped by church officials and the keys to the building were taken off her.
“I was told to leave. When I protested, I was told ‘You’re fired’,” Sr Monahan (84) told the Irish Independent.
Fr Gallagher got out of hospital to find his parochial house locks had been changed. “I was in shock,” he said, “I was now homeless.”
A letter seen by the Irish Independent from the bishop to his priest suggested he needed “treatment” for his mental health and an all-expenses paid trip was offered to a clinic in Pennsylvania. Fr Gallagher refused to go and has been on paid leave since.
Detective Debi Phillips, in a memo to the Chief Deputy of Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, wrote: “Reverend Gallagher and his staff provided timely evidence that was needed to arrest and ultimately convict Jose Palimattom for the felony charge of Showing Obscene Material to a Child.”
Despite numerous emails and phone calls to the Palm Beach Diocese by the Irish Independent, there has been no response from the Church to the allegations.
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