An infamous sexual abuse case involving the Catholic Church in Philadelphia may have been a colossal hoax that puts the University of Virginia debacle to shame, according to a new report by Newsweek.
The details of the case defy belief. A young adult named Daniel Gallagher claimed that while serving as an alter boy he was subjected to rape and other abuses by two priests and a Catholic school teacher. His story was filled with lurid details, such as being sodomized for five hours at a time, being raped immediately after Mass, and being forced to drink communion wine until he was drunk.
Gallagher’s sensational claims did more than ruin reputations. His allegations also led to the imprisonment of four men. One of them, Rev. Charles Engelhardt, died in prison in 2014 after being denied a potentially life-saving heart operation, protesting his innocence to the end. In 2015, Gallagher’s lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was settled for $5 million.
But according to Newsweek’s Ralph Cipriano, the four men may simply be the victims of a vicious pathological liar.
Dr. Stephen Mechanick, a forensic psychologist, was ordered to perform a psychological assessment of Gallagher in October 2015 as part of other lawsuits he was pursuing , and found reason to doubt almost all of his claims. In fact, according to Mechanick, Gallagher seems about as reliable as the infamous Jackie Coakley, whose spurious claims of gang rape created a massive scandal at the University of Virginia:
After a painstaking review of the subject’s medical records gathered from 28 different drug rehab facilities, hospitals, doctors and drug counselors Gallagher visited, the psychiatrist wrote that Gallagher admitted he was “not always honest with his medical providers.”…
All that might be dismissed as trivial, but Gallagher had also provided “conflicting and unreliable information” about his history of sexual abuse, as well as “conflicting and unreliable information” about the specifics of the alleged attacks by the two priests and schoolteacher, Mechanick wrote. “It is not possible to conclude to a reasonable degree of psychiatric or psychological certainty that Mr. Gallagher was sexually abused as a child,” Mechanick added.
The psychiatrist isn’t the only person deeply skeptical of [Gallagher] and his stories. The detective who led the Philadelphia district attorney’s investigation into Gallagher’s allegations against the priests and teacher also has some disturbing doubts. In a confidential deposition obtained by Newsweek, retired Detective Joseph Walsh was asked on January 29, 2015, about nine significant factual discrepancies in Gallagher’s story. The detective testified that when he questioned Gallagher about those discrepancies, Gallagher usually just sat there and said nothing. Or claimed he was high on drugs at the time. Or told a different story.
Shortly after Mechanick produced his report (which was initially confidential but came into Newsweek’s possession), Gallagher and his attorneys abandoned his remaining lawsuits.
The case appears to have many similarities with the spectacular scandal at the University of Virginia, where outrageous claims of gang rape produced a wave of outrage until they were exposed as fraudulent. But there’s another interesting similarity as well: Gallagher’s case attracted the attention of Sabrina Erdely, the disgraced author of Rolling Stone’s “A Rape on Campus” story. In 2011. Erdely wrote an article for Rolling Stone that presented Gallagher’s story as completely true, and described him as “a sweet, gentle kid with boyish good looks.”
But according to Newsweek, Gallagher’s story can’t possibly be completely true, simply because he changed it so often:
When he first reported his abuse to two social workers for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia on January 30, 2009, Gallagher claimed Engelhardt had accosted him after a 6:30 a.m. Mass. He said the priest plied him with sacramental wine and then anally raped him behind locked doors in the church sacristy in a brutal “ramming” attack that lasted from 7 a.m. until noon. After the rape, Gallagher claimed the priest threatened him, saying, “If you ever tell anyone, I will kill you.”
But Gallagher told Mechanick a different story, the same one he told a grand jury and at the criminal trial—that he and the priest had engaged in mutual masturbation and oral sex. Gone were the five hours of anal rape and Engelhardt’s threat to kill him.
Gallagher told the two archdiocese social workers that in the second attack Avery “punched him in the back of the head, and he fell down.” And when he woke up, “he was completely naked, and his hands were tied with altar boy sashes.” Gallagher claimed the priest then anally raped him, smacked him in the face and “made him suck all the blood off his penis.” When this vicious assault was over, Gallagher said, the priest threatened that if he ever told anybody, he would “hang him from his balls and kill him slowly.”
But when Gallagher talked to the police and testified before a grand jury, he dropped the punch in the head, as well as the claims about being tied up with altar sashes, smacked in the face and forced to suck blood. He also omitted the priest’s threat to “hang him from his balls.”
When confronted in court with these factual discrepancies, Gallagher testified that he was high on drugs and “basically in a semi-comatose state” when he spoke to the two social workers and didn’t remember what he told them.
Despite the holes in his tale, Gallagher is now a rich man, while those he accused are buried or behind bars.
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