Derry priest to sue U.S. diocese for defamation

Father John Gallagher  (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Father John Gallagher (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

A Derry priest has been granted permission to sue an American Catholic Diocese for defamation.

Fr. John Gallagher, who now lives in Palm Beach, Florida, but previously ministered in the Long Tower Parish, claims he was defamed after refusing to cover up sex offences committed by another priest.

Fr. Gallagher, from Strabane, began legal proceedings againt the Diocese of Palm Beach in January. He claims he was punished for ignoring instructions not to tell the authorities that a visiting priest, Fr. Jose Palimattom, had shown pornographic images to a 14-year-old in January 2015.

After Fr. Gallagher worked with the local Sherriff’s Office to help prosecute Palimattom, he claims he was frozen out of his priestly duties and locked out of his home.

This was disputed by the Diocese of Palm Beach.

The diocese also disputed claims it had tried to cover up the abuse in three comments posted on its website and in a letter sent and ordered to be read at all Masses in the five-county diocese.

Palimattom admitted sex offences and served six months in prison and a further year on probation before he was deported.

Earlier this week, a judge ruled Fr. Gallagher could sue the Diocese of Palm Beach for defamation for allegedly calling him a liar who needed ‘professional assistance.’

Judge Meenu Sasser rejected the diocese’s assertion that the constitutional separation of Church and State should prevent the lawsuit being decided in a secular court.

Speaking to the ‘Journal’, Fr. Gallagher said the ruling was a ‘relief’ and he hoped the defamation trial would ‘bring closure.’

“This ruling is now going to be case law and will set a precedent for other cases here in the U.S.,” he maintained.

Although the ruling was made earlier this week, the initial hearing was in June.

Fr. Gallagher told the ‘Journal’ it was on the same day as the 25th jubilee of his ordination.

“Instead of celebrating, as others do, I spent it in the courthouse of West Palm Springs where my future was being decided,” he concluded.