Is the anti-Catholic group SNAP running out of Catholic clerics to target and resorting to attacking innocent men? It sure seems like it. Even though an abuse accusation against Wheeling, West Virginia, Bishop Michael J. Bransfield was thoroughly debunked and discredited months ago, SNAP is trying to drum up some more publicity for itself by trying to put a spotlight on the bogus case.
A proven false accusation
Last April, during the high-profile Philadelphia clergy abuse trial, a witness claimed on the stand that 40 years ago in the 1970s that an admittedly abusive priest motioned to a car carrying Bransfield and some boys and told him that Bransfield was abusing "the one in the front seat."
However, two grown men who were actually in the car years ago with Bransfield at the time, including the alleged "victim in the front seat," came forward back in July to flatly refute the decades-old hearsay claim. [Read more about this in our 7/30/12 story, including statements from the men asserting that the allegations were completely false.]
Itching for a story that is not there
Again, despite the fact that the accusation was debunked months ago, even by the alleged "victim," SNAP continues to attack the bishop over it. (SNAP claims that a police investigation is "ongoing," but the police announced its investigation of Bransfield before the two men came forward to flatly refute the shoddy claim.)
Last week, SNAP issued a media statement which consisted of a wacky letter to Bishop Bransfield that asked that the cleric "hold a public Q&A session to address and take questions" about the allegation.
Fortunately, however, even the Church-obsessed media didn't take the bait on SNAP's stunt, and the diocese has fired back at SNAP. Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston spokesman Bryan Minor promptly sent a reply email to SNAP stating that "the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston disagree(s) with SNAP's assessment of how our Bishop handled the allegations" and "I know that you believe more live media and Q and A should have been offered, and we will not reach common ground on that matter, unfortunately." Bravo, Mr. Minor.
An innocent Philadelphia priest finally returns to ministry
Meanwhile, on Monday (10/15/12), the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced it was returning Rev. Joseph L. DiGregorio to ministry, and SNAP immediately issued one of its unhinged and nasty media statements.
Fr. DiGregorio enjoyed over four decades of completely unblemished ministry until 2005, when a woman came forward to claim that he and another priest (since deceased) abused her nearly four decades earlier, in "1967 or 1968."
Even though the Philadelphia review board had already thoroughly investigated the claim and recommended the priest's return to ministry, the archdiocese removed the cleric a second time in 2011 – not because there was any new information about his case, but solely because of public pressure from the high-profile grand jury report.
Upon being ripped from ministry this second time, DiGregorio took to the media and vehemently asserted his innocence. On February 18, 2011, the priest appeared on The Dom Giordano Show, WPHT 1210AM, in Philadelphia. DiGregorio forcefully announced to the radio audience:
"I have not in my whole life ever, ever, ever acted in an inappropriate way – not only with a child, but with anybody. Period.
"Every statement [the accuser] made concerning me is an absolute lie, completely and totally a lie. I never once touched her. I never once groped her or did anything inappropriate. I was never in her company alone. The only times I saw her was when she came to the rectory to see [another priest].
"In my almost 45 years of me being a priest my character and integrity have never been questioned. Almost 20 of those 45 years were spent as an army chaplain in the United States Army. I was deployed in Operation Desert Shield, Desert Storm for almost a year, and again in Operation Iraqi Freedom for 10 months.
"I love my country, I love my Church. I am not intimidated by false accusations against my character. I am, however, angry – very angry – and I intend to fight these accusations with every legal means at my disposal."
Fr. DiGregorio also cited a number of wild inconsistencies in the accuser's bogus tale.
DiGregorio's case provides a textbook example of the Church being especially cautious in returning accused priests to ministry – cautious to the point where many would say it borders on unfairness to falsely accused priests. In viewing the facts of DiGregorio's case, any clear-thinking person would conclude that the accusation against the man was completely bogus. Obviously there is no such clear thinking at SNAP.
[Note: We invite you to read more. Fr. DiGregorio was the subject of a chapter in the book by TheMediaReport.com's Dave Pierre, Catholic Priests Falsely Accused: The Facts, The Fraud, The Stories. [Click to read the chapter about Fr. DiGregio for free (pdf file).]]
Smacking of desperation
SNAP's latest false and mean-spirited attacks reek of a shrinking group that is rapidly declining in influence and is desperate for attention.
SNAP's own survival rests on the group's ability to keep the issue of clergy abuse alive in the media. If it fails to do so, SNAP might as well pack itself up. It sure looks like panic time at SNAP.
These episodes also illustrate that SNAP does not give a rip about fairness and honesty. In the eyes of SNAP, any accused priest – no matter how flimsy the accusation – is a guilty priest. Another objective in SNAP's attacks on the Catholic Church becomes more clear: Get and keep as many men out of the priesthood as possible.