Unfair in Philadelphia? Little Media Scrutiny of Grand Jury Report Against Catholic Church

March 18th, 2011 12:04 AM

While all decent people demand compassion and justice for victims of clergy abuse, there is compelling evidence to believe that portions of the recent high-profile Philadelphia grand jury report have unfairly maligned the Catholic Church.

No media outlets have taken note of the report's glaring contradictions, notable omissions, and unfair characterizations of Church officials. (Maureen Dowd certainly didn't.) The report also routinely assigns the most sinister motives to actions by archdiocesan employees, even though an objective assessment would conclude otherwise.

For example:

1. The grand jury report slams the Philadelphia archdiocese by saying it had "conducted non-investigations that predictably failed to establish priests' guilt."

This charge is patently untrue. In fact, for a number of years now, Philadelphia has maintained a high-profile web page that publicly posts the names, pictures, and assignments of those clerics whom the archdiocese has found to be guilty of abuse. The list is extensive and spans the removal of priests over the past several decades. (In fact, SNAP, the so-called victims' advocacy group that relentlessly criticizes the Church, has publicly praised Philadelphia on numerous occasions for being among the few dioceses that have such an accessible list. (2008))

The archdiocese's web page is clear-cut evidence that the Church in Philadelphia has in fact investigated several priests, found misconduct to be true, and laicized offenders.

In other words, the report's claim of "non-investigations" by the archdiocese is clearly contradicted by historical facts.

2. The report heralds itself as uncovering "new" information, yet the report spends several pages outlining cases allegedly involving Rev. Edward Avery. (Although the report is 128 pages long, the name “Avery” appears 162 times.)

Most readers of the report would be unaware of the fact that the media already widely reported the history of Fr. Avery back in 2003, and the Church laicized him in 2006.

In other words, the Church already removed Rev. Avery from ministry even before the first Philadelphia grand jury report in 2005. Meanwhile, the latest report provides nothing revelatory about Avery, except for the fact that another accuser came forward in 2009 to claim abuse by the cleric in the late 1990's. (This accuser, "Billy," has claimed that three men, two priests and a teacher, abused him.)

3. As an example of a case that supposedly contains "substantial evidence" of abuse, the report profiles the case of Rev. Joseph DiGregorio. A woman came forward in 2005 to accuse the cleric of molesting her in "1967 or 1968." With no other allegations against him in over four decades as a priest, a Review Board concluded back in 2006 that "evidence obtained through the investigative process was not sufficient to substantiate" the single allegation against the cleric.

The report takes strong issue with the archdiocese's 2006 decision to return Fr. DiGregorio to ministry. Yet a closer look reveals that this accused priest could very well be innocent, rather than guilty.

After the grand jury released its report last month, the archdiocese re-suspended Fr. DiGregorio (along with two other priests the report profiled). Rather than bow to public pressure, Fr. DiGregorio forcefully went to the media to declare his innocence. On February 18, 2011, the priest appeared live on The Dom Giordano Show on Talk Radio WPHT 1210AM:

"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. I applaud and support any organization or group of people, including SNAP, that seeks to protect minors against any abuse, sexual or otherwise, by anyone. I also applaud those who seek the truth with honesty …

"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]."

The priest also cited reported inconsistencies in his accuser's allegations.

Yet a reading of the grand jury report would leader an observer to believe that Fr. DiGregorio committed abuse without a doubt. Among the little evidence that the report provides is the news that the cleric reportedly failed a polygraph test.

However, the jury left out an important element regarding Fr. DiGregorio's polygraph. As the cleric said on the radio:

"The [report and the local newspaper] failed to mention that I requested the polygraph test to establish my innocence. The test was administered in a Holiday Inn in Allentown, PA by an archdiocesan-appointed investigator. Needless to say how upset I was when the results of that test indicated that I was not telling the truth. [However,] a review of the transcripts of the test was [later] made by two polygraph experts with more than 30 years combined experience in administering and reading polygraphs. Their conclusion in reading the results of that test were [that] at best the test was 'inconclusive,' and at worst, it was wrong."

Fr. DiGregorio makes a convincing case for his innocence.

If the Fr. DiGregorio case is among the most egregious that the jury could profile, it does not say much for the veracity of the claims against the other three dozen "credibly accused" priests that the jury claims were in active ministry.

Indeed, many clerics in the Philadelphia archdiocese wrecked deep harm on innocent youth and shattered numerous families. Compassion and justice is demanded for victims. As the late Pope John Paul II declared, "There is no room in the priesthood for those who abuse children." And as Pope Benedict has said, the Church must rid itself of its "filth."

However, someone in the major media should take a closer look at some of the wild charges that this high-profile Philadelphia grand jury report has publicized.

[IMPORTANT NOTE: This is a shortened and edited version of a much-longer article. The original, full version appears at TheMediaReport.com.]

-- Dave Pierre is the author of the book, Double Standard: Abuse Scandals and the Attack on the Catholic Church. Dave is also the creator of TheMediaReport.com and is a contributing writer to NewsBusters.