The estate of an Ulster County man who killed himself earlier this year is asking a court to compel the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers to identify and preserve records of a priest who allegedly sexually assaulted the decedent for eight years when he was a boy.
Catherine Gallagher, the sister of Ralph “Chip” Gallagher, petitioned Westchester Supreme Court on June 7 to appoint a neutral party to preserve records, identify potential witnesses and notify others who may have come into contact with the priest when they were children.
“The Maryknolls take these claims very seriously,” attorney John P. Hannigan, of Bleakley Platt responded, “and we’re looking into assembling the facts.”
He later characterized the demands as a “thinly veiled effort” by Catherine Gallagher’s attorney, Barbara Hart of Lowey Dannenberg in White Plains, “to identify potential clients.” That would be an improper use of legal procedure, he stated in a court filing.
The Maryknolls, a Roman Catholic religious order based in Ossining, is primarily a missionary organization that combats poverty, provides health care, runs orphanages and schools, and advances social justice issues in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Ralph Gallagher was born in Mount Kisco and grew up in Chappaqua. When he died in January, he was living in Phoenicia, where he was a self-employed carpenter.
The petition concerns Edward Flanagan, who joined the Maryknolls 1956 as a religious brother, was ordained as a priest in 1964, voluntarily withdrew from the order in 1971 and died in 2016.
In the 1960s, he was assigned to the Church of St. John and St. Mary in Chappaqua.
Flanagan had been a guest in the Gallagher’s Chappaqua home over the years and family members attended his ordination into the priesthood.
Gallagher was first assaulted in 1962, according to the petition, when he was 4 years old. The alleged assaults continued through 1970, when he was 11, and included an incident in the Bahamas.
Flanagan had received significant psychological counseling, the petition states, yet the religious order moved him from position to position and allowed him to continue working with families and children.
The petition does not explain how it is known that Flanagan assaulted Gallagher. BishopAccountability.org, does not list Flanagan on its database of U.S. Catholic clergy accused of sexually abusing children.
The Gallagher estate intends to sue the Maryknolls, and others, for sexual abuse, assault, battery, fraud, false imprisonment and negligence.
In New York, sexual assault lawsuits must be brought within three years of the victim’s 18th birthday. Gallagher was 60 when he died.
But in February, just weeks after his death, New York enacted the Child Victims Act. The new law created a one-time, one-year opening, beginning Aug. 14, for victims who have missed the deadline to file cases.
The Gallagher estate wants to begin the discovery process before filing a lawsuit, to identify witnesses, supervisors and documents that will advance the investigation and help frame the complaint.
The estate wants access to archives maintained by the Maryknolls and by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. It wants names and contact information of minors to whom Flanagan had access, names of supervisors and co-workers, journals, notes, internal investigative memoranda, law enforcement or regulatory agency reports, and public or private complaints against Flanagan.
The Maryknolls have already preserved documents concerning improper sexual conduct by any members of the order, Hannigan stated in a court filing, because of a “litigation hold” by the state attorney general for an investigation of the Catholic Church’s response to allegations of sexual abuse.
Pre-action discovery is an extraordinary remedy, Hannigan said, is rarely granted, and is not necessary in this case.
Hart, the attorney for Gallagher’s estate, countered that access to the records is urgent because witnesses who were adults when abuses happened and are now elderly. Testimony should be taken now, she stated, “before their recollections become unavailable.”
She identified another former Maryknoll, Brother Will Ament, who she claims often accompanied Flanagan and was with him in the Gallagher home and on the Bahamas trip. She did not accuse Ament of wrongdoing, but said he is of advanced age, living in Iowa, and could bolster the Gallagher case.
She also argues that other children were under Flanagan’s “sphere of influence” when he ran youth groups and musical groups, and should be notified.
“Other Flanagan survivors may believe they are alone and would be disbelieved in any accusation,” she stated. “The existing list (of credibly accused abusers) does not include Flanagan, and that may serve to misinform and further the isolation of survivors.”
The religious order is committed to providing a safe environment for everyone who comes into contact with its priests, brothers and employees, according to the Rev. Raymond Finch, superior general, in an undated letter posted on the order’s website.
The letter states that it does background checks on members, responds promptly to allegations of abuse, treats victims with dignity and compassion, removes from ministry those who are credibly accused, provides therapeutic and pastoral care to victims, and strives for transparency in settling matters.
Bishops around the world have responded to sexual abuse allegations in inexcusable ways, Finch states, and “caused even more pain and suffering for victims.”
“We call upon our church and the members of our own Maryknoll Society to do everything possible to end this affliction.”