BELFAST TELEGRAPH: A US-based priest from County Tyrone who called police after a colleague showed sickening child porn images to a 14-year-old boy says he has been ‘frozen out’ by the Catholic Church over his stance.
Father John A Gallagher 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, Florida. The 48-year-old claims he was told by a church official to put a paedophile priest on a plane rather than co-operate with police.
A local police chief, so concerned at the Irish cleric’s treatment, wrote to church leaders to complain about how the whistleblower is being treated.
Fr Gallagher broke his year-long silence over the affair to tell how the priest from India at the centre of the abuse scandal is a danger to children. He says he has been unable to find out where the priest is now.
He has written to bishops and cardinals in Ireland and America about the case - as well as Vatican officials - and has, so far, been unable to get a satisfactory response.
Fr Gallagher is originally from Strabane. He served the Long Tower parish in Londonderry until 2000 before taking up a post in the US.
The astonishing case began in January 2015 when Father 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.”
The teenager told a friend who reported it to the church choirmaster, who immediately told Father Gallagher. The priest says he was told that night by a church official in Florida: “We need to make him go away, put 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.
After the incident involving the boy, Fr Gallagher disregarded the instruction to put Fr Palimattom on a plane to Bangalore. Instead, he interviewed Fr Palimattom along with a retired police officer, who was one of his parishioners.
The parishioner, who took notes at the meeting, said 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 States.
It was a confession he would repeat within hours to detectives assigned to the case from a specialist unit of the West Palm Beach Police.
Fr Gallagher said he immediately called the Sheriff’s Department of the West Palm Beach police, following rules set down by the American Church after hundreds of child sex abuse scandals. Some of those cases in Boston are featured in the new movie ‘Spotlight’ released here last weekend.
The Irish cleric is well-known throughout the Catholic community in the States, has made several religious music records and has made numerous television appearances.
In 2012, the then Pope Benedict XVI wrote him a personal note, thanking him for his work with the church.
But all that was a distant memory last year, he says, when 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 said.
"It was a very distressing time for me and the parish. But 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.
“Palimattom was on the local TV news as his arrest became public. I did the right thing.”
Church officials dealt with the boy and his family through lawyers and an out-of-court settlement was made.
In February, says Fr Gallagher, he learned of a bid to have him moved at a meeting attended by around 100 Hispanic Catholics, most of them from outside the parish.
He had brought in a Spanish priest to celebrate Spanish Masses and was unaware of any complaints.
In late April, he says, he was called to a meeting by the Bishop of Palm Beach, Gerald Barbarito. Three other officials were there. Fr Gallagher says he was due to be promoted, but instead was told to continue in his role for another year, when it would be reviewed again.
He says he wasn’t happy with the decision, but was completely unprepared for a phone call from Bishop Barbarito the next day. “He told me I was being demoted,” said Father Gallagher.
“No reason was given. I asked if I could meet with him again and this was refused. 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 in an ambulance with a suspected heart attack after becoming unwell whilst hearing Confessions.
He says he felt aggrieved when Bishop Barbarito visited him in hospital but didn’t anoint him or bring Communion.