Home Courts Maryknolls don’t have to reveal priest records yet, judge rules

Maryknolls don’t have to reveal priest records yet, judge rules

A Westchester Supreme Court judge has rejected a request that the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York provide records now of a priest who allegedly assaulted a boy in the 1960s.

Catherine Gallagher petitioned the court in June to appoint a neutral party to preserve records and to compel the Catholic institutions to identify potential witnesses and notify possible victims of a priest she claims assaulted her brother, Ralph “Chip” Gallagher, who died in January.

She wants the records to prepare for a lawsuit she plans to file, as voluntary administrator of her brother’s estate.

“Nothing before the court establishes the claim that the requested pre-action disclosure is necessary,” Justice Terry Jane Ruderman ruled July 23.

Gallagher claims that Edward Flanagan sexually assaulted her brother from age 4 to 11, beginning in 1962. Flanagan, who joined the Maryknoll missionary order, based in Ossining, in 1956, had been assigned to the Church of St. John and St. Mary in Chappaqua where Ralph Gallagher went to school. He had allegedly been a frequent guest in the Gallagher home.

Flanagan left the Maryknoll order in 1971 and died in 2016.

When Gallagher died, at age 60, sexual assault lawsuits in New York had to be brought within three years of the victim’s 18th birthday.

But a state law enacted this year created a one-time, one-year opportunity, beginning Aug. 14, for victims who missed the deadline to file cases.

Catherine Gallagher argued that she needs the records now for an investigation and to help frame a complaint. She wants to make sure that nothing is destroyed, as well as to identify other victims and co-workers of Flanagan who could be witnesses.

For instance, she said former Maryknoll Brother Will Ament accompanied Flanagan and her brother on a trip in the Bahamas. She did not accuse Ament of wrongdoing but said he could bolster the case against Flanagan. But Ament, and other potential witnesses, are old, and getting their testimony is urgent before “recollections become unavailable.”

The Maryknolls and the archdiocese argued that Catherine Gallagher failed to demonstrate a “meritorious cause of action.” She has no personal knowledge of the alleged events. She does not demonstrate why pre-action discovery is needed to frame a complaint or what bearing other potential victims have on her brother’s case. The archdiocese noted that it had no control over Flanagan’s employment and nothing has been shown that it knew of Flanagan’s actions.

Both organizations said the state attorney general has already put them on notice to preserve documents for an investigation of allegations against the Catholic Church.

Ruderman found the Maryknoll’s and archdiocese’s positions persuasive.

“The petition lacks support by anyone with first-hand knowledge of the allegations,” she said. Catherine Gallagher has offered no support for her authority to act as a voluntary administrator of her brother’s estate.  She appears to already have sufficient information to frame a complaint.

The names of other children and witnesses can be obtained through normal discovery channels, “once an action has been commenced,” she said, and the Maryknolls and archdiocese have demonstrated that they are aware of the necessity of preserving relevant records.

“No additional protections,” Ruderman said, “are warranted here.”

Gallagher is represented by Barbara J. Hart of Lowey Dannenberg in White Plains. The Maryknolls are represented by John P. Hannigan of Bleakley Platt & Schmidt in White Plains. The archdiocese is represented by Peter J. Johnson Jr., Leahey & Johnson of  Manhattan.


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