3 more priests removed for past allegations

Posted: April 08, 2013

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has permanently removed three more parish priests from public ministry over claims of sexual abuse or misconduct around minors, including one whose accuser killed himself in 2009, allegedly after church officials first declared his claim unsubstantiated.

That priest, the Rev. Joseph J. Gallagher, has been deemed "unsuitable for ministry due to violations" of church standards, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced Sunday. A second priest, the Rev. Mark Gaspar, was removed for the same reason, officials said. As it has in other cases, the archdiocese did not identify the violations, or any details about the accusers or their claims.

A third priest, Msgr. Richard T. Powers, 77, was permanently removed over substantiated allegations that he abused a 17-year-old girl during an overseas trip 40 years ago.

Each of the priests had been on administrative leave, along with two dozen others suspended in the wake of a 2011 grand jury report that accused the archdiocese of failing to act on credible allegations of child sex abuse or misconduct by priests. In the past year, Chaput has restored eight of the suspended clerics to ministry, and declared seven others were unfit to continue to publicly serve as priests.

The decisions were announced this weekend at parishes where the priests last served before they were put on leave - St. Richard, where Gallagher was the pastor and pastor emeritus; Our Lady of Charity Church in Brookhaven, Delaware County, for Gaspar; and Epiphany of Our Lord in Philadelphia for Powers.

The grand jury report said Gallagher was twice accused of fondling altar boys at St. Mark's Church in Bristol Township, Bucks County in the early 1980s.

One of his accusers, Daniel Neill, allegedly gave archdiocesan victim coordinators a detailed account in 2007 of how Gallagher molested him. The report said other altar boys confirmed aspects of the boy's, while Gallagher gave investigators "evasive" answers. But church officials declined to take action against Gallagher. Neill killed himself in 2009.

The report identified Neill with a pseudonym, Ben, but Neill's relatives have since named him publicly in a lawsuit against the priest and archdiocese. That complaint is pending.

Marci Hamilton, attorney for the Neill family, said the announcement was good news.

"That is exactly what they should have done," Hamilton said. "But, it should have been done long ago."

She said the archdiocese dragged their feet in the case and gave the benefit of the doubt to the priests. She said they should have removed all the priests names by victims.

No details were available on the accusations against Gaspar. Church officials have said such boundary violations can range from priests making inappropriate comments to the "grooming" of abuse victims.

Powers was suspended last year after his name emerged on an internal church document turned over to Philadelphia prosecutors that revealed he had been accused of a sexual act with a 17-year-old girl in Venezuela 40 years earlier.

Seven cases involving accusations against priests, all of which were first referred to local prosecutors, are still unresolved.

Chaput said four of these have not yet been released by the District Attorney, and three only were recently released, leaving them still under the internal review process. Priests who have been removed have the option of staying in ministry but living in a restricted setting, and cannot serve as a priest publicly or administer sacraments. If they choose not to do so, church officials could move to laicize or defrock them.

All the priests have the option of appealing the decisions to the Vatican.

Contact John P. Martin at 215-341-2597, at jmartin@phillynews.com or @JPMartinInky on Twitter.

Staff writer Mari A. Schaefer contributed to this article.


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