Catholic order pays $1m settlement to 8 victims of clergy sex abuse dating back decades
A Catholic order has paid a total of $1 million to eight people who were sexually abused by two Catholic priests in the 1970s and early ’80s in Massachusetts, the victims’ lawyer said Tuesday.
One of the priests, John J. Gallagher, was the subject of a letter written in 1992 by one of the victims to the late Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who at the time headed the Archdiocese of Boston. The letter, released by attorney Mitchell Garabedian, graphically detailed abuse the woman experienced in Lawrence in the mid-’70s, and serves as further evidence that Law had knowledge of sexual abuse by Catholic priests before it was widely publicized.
Garabedian said negotiations with the Order of Saint Augustine have been ongoing outside of court for two years, with the settlement decided last month.
The eight victims — five men and three women — were abused by Gallagher and another priest in Reading and Lawrence. The men were abused by Father Robert Turnbull at Austin Preparatory School in Reading, while Gallagher abused the women at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Lawrence, Garabedian said. The victims were around 9 to 12 years old at the time.
“Victims of sexual abuse can only come forward when their coping mechanisms allow them to, and these brave sexual abuse victims came forward when they were ready,” Garabedian said. “These eight clergy sexual abuse victims are a voice . . . for many victims who have not yet had the strength and courage to come forward.”
In a statement, the Augustinians said they take the allegations seriously and dedicated resources to investigate them.
“Because we are committed to justice in upholding the dignity of every person, and in a desire to promote healing, we have concluded the claims made against our Province,” the Augustinians said. “At the same time, we continue to work diligently to ensure the safety and protection of all children and adults.”
The letter to Law, written by a woman who prefers to remain anonymous, recounted how Gallagher abused her at St. Mary’s when she was in the fourth to sixth grades.
“I am writing to report that I was sexually abused as a child by a priest in your diocese,” she wrote in the first line of her letter to Law.
She identified Gallagher as her abuser and explicitly described how he groped her and other girls, and made girls sit on his lap while he grinded against them.
The woman, who lives in Salem, said the settlement gave her some closure and made her less angry about what happened.
“I feel that speaking up has made me really not a victim anymore,” she said in an interview. “I had that victim mentality. I changed my life to not be a victim.”
The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team revealed in a series of articles in 2002 that Law knew about widespread clergy sex abuse, but did little to support victims or properly crack down on accused priests. He resigned in 2002 and took up a post in Rome. He died last December at age 86.
Scott Panniello, another victim participating in the settlement, said he was sexually abused numerous times by Turnbull when he was 13 years old and attended Austin Prep.
Most of the abuse occurred when Turnbull brought Panniello to a golf club in Tewksbury and made him shower with the priest, Panniello said. Other abuse occurred in the club’s swimming pool.
“I think about it every day, honestly,” said Panniello, 52, who now lives in Dracut and has a wife and two grown children. “I try not to. I try to kind of lock it in a box and put it away, but just different things come up, different topics.”
Before and after their time at the Massachusetts parishes, the two priests were shuffled across the county to different parishes, according to BishopAccountability.org. Both have since died.
“This is another example,” Garabedian said, “of the Catholic Church trying to silence discussion concerning pedophile priests.”