LINCOLN — A Catholic order based in Bellevue is now a defendant in two lawsuits in Massachusetts that allege sexual abuse of two children by a priest in the 1970s.
The lawsuits say officials with the Columban Fathers of Bellevue, as well as those with the Archdiocese of Boston, knew that a now-deceased priest, the Rev. Brian Gallagher, was an abuser, yet assigned him to serve a parish and nursing home in Dorchester, Massachusetts, granting him “unchecked power to sexually abuse Catholic boys.”
The attorney who represents the two now-grown men named in the lawsuits said Gallagher, a native of Ireland, was transferred from missionary work in Japan, first briefly to Ireland, then to the U.S., where he spent only four years.
“A prudent person would ask question about why he was transferred so much,” said Joseph Wadland, a lawyer based in Andover, Massachusetts.
Representatives of the Columban Fathers, whose U.S. headquarters have been in Bellevue since 1922, did not respond to requests for comment.
The development comes as the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office has asked the state’s three Catholic dioceses to provide records going back 40 years about priests suspected of sexual abuse and misconduct. The Lincoln diocese is also investigating six priests for alleged abuse or improper behavior.
Renewed attention has been brought to clergy abuse in recent weeks after the release of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that said 300 priests had abused at least 1,000 minors there over the past 70 years.
The lawsuits in Massachusetts were filed on behalf of two now-grown brothers, Dan and Paul Connolly, who say they were sexually assaulted by Gallagher between 1973 and 1976. The lawsuit involving Paul Connolly was filed on Aug. 29, the same day a lawsuit involving his brother Dan — a lawsuit filed a year ago — was amended to include the Columban Fathers as defendants.
The brothers were part of a large Catholic family. Their mother worked at the rectory of St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Dorchester, and two of their brothers worked as dishwashers at the parish-owned nursing home. Gallagher, who died in 2014, was a priest at St. Mark’s, the chaplain at the nursing home and a regular visitor to the Connolly home, according to the lawsuit.
In the lawsuit filed on behalf of Dan Connolly, he alleges that the priest, on more than one occasion, put his hands down his pants and fondled his genitals and pushed his finger repeatedly into his rectum.
The lawsuit says Dan Connolly, now 47, did not tell his wife that he was assaulted until 2016. Paul Connolly, now 52, also did not disclose that he had been victimized until 2016. Both are asking for unspecified damages for emotional distress, humiliation and psychological damage.
The lawsuit says the Boston archdiocese and the Columban Fathers were “vicariously liable” for the pain, suffering and humiliation suffered by the two Connollys because they “knew or reasonably should have known” that Gallagher was an abusive priest yet allowed him to remain in his post.
Other defendants named in the lawsuit are the current regional director of the Columbans, the Rev. Timothy Mulroy, and the three previous regional directors going back to 1995.