Survivors of man who alleged Philadelphia clergy abuse sue

It was one of the more searing allegations in the recent Philadelphia grand jury report on clergy sex abuse:

A Bristol Township man killed himself after the Archdiocese of Philadelphia refused to believe that a priest had molested him when he was an altar boy.

On Wednesday, relatives of the man, Daniel Neill, became the latest to sue the archdiocese over its response to abuse victims. Neill shot himself in June 2009.

“It’s a wrongful death is what it is,” said Jeff Anderson, a lawyer for Neill’s family.

The grand jury cited the handling of Neill’s complaint as one of three examples of the archdiocese’s failure to act on complaints that seemed credible. The report identified Neill by the pseudonym “Ben.”

That report has spawned criminal charges against four current or former priests, four lawsuits by alleged victims, and the suspension of more than two dozen priests while the church reexamines complaints against them.

One of those on administrative leave is the Rev. Joseph J. Gallagher, the priest Neill said had repeatedly molested him at St. Mark’s in Bristol in 1980 and 1981.

According to the lawsuit, Neill reported the abuse to the school principal at St. Mark’s in 1980, but his complaint was ignored. The principal instead allegedly “called Daniel a liar and threatened Daniel that his family would be disgraced if he persisted” with the accusations.

The lawsuit does not identify the principal by name.

Neill, a department store worker and aspiring actor who had bit parts on TV shows, reported the attacks to the archdiocese’s victim-assistance program in 2007. It was the second complaint against Gallagher in about a year, according to the grand jury report.

Neill gave church investigators vivid details about the abuse and names of other altar boys, the grand jury found.

One told investigators that the priest had “improper relationships” with students but wouldn’t elaborate, the grand jury said.

Others allegedly confirmed aspects of Neill’s accounts – such as the priest’s habit of hearing boys’ confessions in a church loft and asking them about masturbation – although not the abuse itself.

When confronted by archdiocesan investigators, Gallagher at first denied the allegations, then became “more evasive” in his answers, according to the grand jury report.

An independent archdiocesan review board ruled that it could not substantiate the complaints. In July 2008, a victim-assistance coordinator told Neill of the decision.

According to the grand jury report, Neill’s mother, Mary, told the coordinator a week after his death that her son had “so many disappointments in his life” and had been “really hurt” when church officials couldn’t substantiate his accusations.

Mary Neill declined The Inquirer’s requests for interviews last month. In a statement released by her lawyers, she and her daughter, Michelle Forsyth, said the family hoped its lawsuit would force church officials “to do a better job” protecting children and healing the wounded.

“Our family member said more than once, ‘I am not looking for anything other than for the church to believe me,’ ” their statement said. “We are filing this lawsuit for him.”

As the others before it, the lawsuit accuses the archdiocese and Cardinal Justin Rigali of civil conspiracy and fraud for its handling of abuse allegations and response to victims. It also adds a separate wrongful-death claim.

Archdiocesan officials have declined to comment on the grand jury allegations regarding Gallagher.

Before his suspension, Gallagher was retired but assisting at area parishes, including St. Jerome and St. Timothy in Philadelphia and St. Thomas Aquinas inCroydon, according to the grand jury.

Contact staff writer John P. Martin at 215-854-4774 or