Some parishioners angry at bishop over critical letter read during Mass

Bishop Gerald Barbarito of the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach is coming under fire from some parishioners for asking priests this past weekend to read at Mass a letter criticizing another priest.

“How dare this bishop use the church of God to discuss his dirty laundry. Shame on him,” said Theresa Annos of Delray Beach, who said her husband stopped her from nearly yelling out from the middle of the church when the priest at St. Jude Cathlic Church in Boca Raton was reading Barbarito’s letter.

012515 PBDN Melanie Bell 02 Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach led the Saint Edward Catholic Church Consecration on Sunday. Assisting him during the Sprinkling Rite is Deacon Martin Serraes.

Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Palm Beach

The letter sought to clarify allegations made last week by Father John Gallagher, who claimed he was transferred out of Holy Name of Jesus Church in West Palm Beach as punishment for altering authorities in January 2015 to a pedophile priest.

Barbarito also authorized priests and employees to talk to The Palm Beach Post about why Gallagher was transferred, which they said was related to Gallagher’s performance and had nothing to do with the prosecution of Father Jose Palimattom.

“When I heard that letter on Sunday I was ready to get up and walk out. I was astounded,” said Barbara DuBois of Boca Raton.

“I really felt for the pastor having to do this because you could tell he was totally uncomfortable. He stumbled over words.”

Barbarito’s letter capped a series of extraordinary rebuttals by the diocese, which included two separate statements after Gallagher’s allegations first surfaced Jan. 25 in a report by the Irish Independent newspaper.

Father John Gallagher says he was punished by Catholic Church for blowing the whistle on a pedophile priest. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Father John Gallagher says he was punished by Catholic Church for blowing the whistle on a pedophile priest. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Although several South Florida media outlets reported the story last week, many parishioners were not aware of it. And some of them seemed puzzled Sunday when they heard their pastors at Mass reading the bishop’s letter.

“For that bishop to send a letter to every church to be read at every Mass when Sunday Mass should just be for worship, I think that is the most disgraceful thing I have ever heard of,” Sandy Scharmann said.

Dianne Laubert, the diocese’s spokesperson, acknowledged that the diocese “received some emails and phone calls from people who didn’t want the letter read at church.

“But I will tell you they were very minimal. We’ve had positive feedback from people who appreciated Bishop Barbarito talking to them so honestly,” she said.

Barbarito, when sharing the letter with parishes on Friday, only requested that it be read at Mass. It was never a requirement for the letter to be read, Laubert said.

Barbarito’s cover letter closes: “For the good of all, I believe that it deserves special attention. I thank you in advance for your cooperation in this matter.”

Some priests were under the impression that they had to read the letter, according to several churchgoers who spoke to their priests after Mass.

Barbarito oversees a diocese that comprises 280,000 Catholics in five counties in Southeastern Florida: Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee.

 

Here is the text of the bishop’s letter:

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:

As your shepherd, which I am privileged to be, I wish to publicly state that I am deeply grateful to our extraordinary staff of competent people in regard to the protection of children, who are committed to their role not as a job, but as a calling, and give their time and attention in a manner that gives us all cause for great reassurance.  As some of you are aware, a great deal of disappointing media attention has been focused on Father John Gallagher, a priest of this Diocese, who has made unfounded allegations against the Diocese of Palm Beach and the Church in general.  Our Diocese in no way, as Fr. Gallagher erroneously asserts, tried to “cover up” the inappropriate behavior of a visiting priest, Father José Palimattom, who was assisting at Holy Name of Jesus Parish, which Father Gallagher administered.  In fact, in accord with our very rigorous policies pertaining to the protection of children, we not only immediately reported the incident to the police and State Attorney, but cooperated as fully as we could in the investigation.

The matter referred to had nothing to do, as Father Gallagher again erroneously asserts, with his not being named pastor of the parish.  His assertion of this is but another one of his fabrications, which is causing harm to the Church.  I truly regret Father Gallagher’s behavior for which there is no founded reason.  We have wonderful, hard working and dedicated priests in the Diocese of Palm Beach to whom I am deeply grateful.  Father Gallagher’s harmful assertions are an embarrassment to my brother priests as well as to me.

I wish not only to clarify this unfortunate matter, but also to ask that you pray for Father Gallagher.  As always, he will be given every opportunity for appropriate priestly ministry, based on his willingness to tell the truth, accept assistance, and apologize for the harm he continues to cause.

As the family of Christ in the Diocese of Palm Beach, I thank you for being a community of great faith, mercy and truth, which has always been a personal inspiration to me.

With gratitude for your support and prayers in this and every matter, and with every prayerful wish, I am

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
Bishop of Palm Beach

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