WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CN) - A priest sued the Diocese of Palm Beach, claiming it defamed him in retaliation for his objections to its attempted cover-up of a foreign clergyman's pedophilia.
In a lawsuit filed in Palm Beach County, the Rev. John Gallagher claims that the way the Catholic Church treated him "shows without question that [it] has learned nothing from its history and continues to cover up acts of priest pedophilia."
Gallagher says the Diocese of Palm Beach went on a campaign to sully his reputation after he publicly objected to its unwillingness to cooperate with police in a pedophilia investigation involving Joseph Palimatton, an assistant priest from India who was serving at Gallagher's Holy Name of Jesus church in West Palm Beach.
Palimatton arrived at the church from India in December 2014, and within a month, he stood accused of a sex crime: He allegedly showed images of child pornography to a 14-year-old, including "numerous photographs of minor children who were naked and had erect penises."
Unbeknownst to Father Gallagher, Palimatton had been involved in several sexual abuse events, the lawsuit claims. The Catholic Church in India had transferred him to Gallagher's church allegedly without disclosing his past abuses.
When Gallagher confronted Palimatton about the child porn incident in West Palm Beach, Palimatton's "attitude was that the entire matter could be cured by him going to confession, as previously instructed by his superiors in India," the lawsuit claims.
Palimatton's pedophilic activity was reported to the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office by the 14-year-old boy's family, and Palimatton was arrested in Jan. 2015.
Gallagher contacted the Diocese of Palm Beach, the local district of the Catholic Church, and asked for guidance.
A chancellor for the Diocese "told Father Gallagher that the normal way the Diocese handled a matter like this was to send the offending priest on an airplane back home," Gallagher says.
He says the chancellor instructed him not to take a lot of notes.
A few days later, when Gallagher advised the chancellor that a church video camera had captured the Palimatton incident, the chancellor "told Father Gallagher not to inform the police of that fact," the lawsuit states.
Gallagher claims he warned the chancellor that the police were coming to pick the video up, and the chancellor responded by saying Gallagher didn't have to give that to them.
According to the lawsuit, a diocesian attorney did not want Gallagher to relay too much information to the police, in case the victim's family brought a civil claim against the church. The attorney called Gallagher directly and repeatedly told him he didn't have to tell the police everything he knew, Gallagher says.
Gallagher says that in the year following the incident, he wrote letters to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Vatican, and to various archbishops and cardinals concerning the attempted cover-up.
In the meanwhile, he was applauded by the sheriff's department for his participation in the investigation.
Detective Debi Phillips wrote to her colleague in the department, noting that although she had encountered uncooperative and dismissive behavior from the Catholic Church in a past investigation, she found that Gallagher was helpful and played a pivotal role in Palimatton's arrest.