Detroit Archdiocese Engaged in Witness Manipulation

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by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D.  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  November 25, 2019   

File on Fr. Eduard Perrone contains exonerating evidence

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DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - Church Militant has confirmed that the archdiocesan investigative file on Detroit priest Fr. Eduard Perrone reveals unethical conduct and conflict of interest on the part of archdiocesan officials, as well as evidence that could exonerate the priest, including the fact that the alleged victim suffers from psychosis — leading to further questions about the accuracy of his allegation based on a 40-year-old "repressed memory."

The Detroit archdiocese has three times refused to comply with a court order to hand over its investigative file on Fr. Perrone, who was placed on a leave of absence in July over the accuser's allegation. 

The accuser, however, has admitted to Michigan State Police he can't recall any specific incidents of abuse, leading the police to close its investigation.

Bugarin and LePage appear to be pressuring and coaching the witness to make incriminating statements against Perrone. 

The information has left critics wondering how the archdiocesan review board could have found the accuser's allegation "credible" in the first place, and why Abp. Allen Vigneron — recently elected vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — has not restored Perrone to active ministry.

Kathleen Klaus, attorney for Perrone, told Church Militant, "It's absolutely, completely irrational to me that an entity like the archdiocese would not comply with the court order unless it was hiding something."

Coaching the Witness

Church Militant has now confirmed that the Detroit archdiocese's investigative file on Perrone shows investigators pressuring, manipulating and coaching the accuser into making incriminating statements against the priest.

The file also exposes a serious conflict of interest on the part of Msgr. Michael Bugarin, episcopal vicar, and the one placed in charge of the archdiocese's investigation. Bugarin admits to having served as the accuser's spiritual director for a year before Perrone was suspended from ministry — an admission that should have ensured Bugarin was removed from the investigation.


 

In an interview with the accuser from July 2018 conducted by Bugarin and Det. Sgt. Nancy LePage of the Macomb County Sheriff's Department, both appear to be pressuring and coaching the witness to make incriminating statements against Perrone. 

In one exchange, the accuser says he cannot recall if Fr. Perrone abused him. LePage responds by insisting he was abused, even introducing the word "sodomy" into the discussion and asking the accuser to recall instances he was sodomized. The accuser explicitly states he cannot vividly recall such abuse happening to him, but LePage keeps pressing him, repeating the term, insisting that the abuse occurred in her attempt to get the accuser to agree.

The term "sodomy" was not a term the accuser used, but rather a term introduced by LePage.

Throughout the exchange, the accuser is clearly uncomfortable with the word and unwilling to commit to the allegation.

LePage gets graphic and uses explicit language to refer to the accuser's genitals, in further efforts to insist that abuse occurred.

Bugarin is present in the room during the entire interview, at one point interrupting the exchange to insist to the accuser that the abuse did indeed happen, also telling him they're taking his side in all this.

Bugarin also makes denigrating comments about Fr. Perrone and the parish of Assumption Grotto, claiming that the parishioners follow Perrone and not Christ.


 

At one point, Bugarin admits to offering spiritual direction to the alleged victim for a year — a conflict of interest that normally results in the party being forced to recuse himself from the case. Bugarin, however, has been allowed to remain in charge of the investigation.

Bugarin makes denigrating comments about Fr. Perrone and his parish, claiming that the parishioners follow Perrone and not Christ.

A source close to the situation told Church Militant LePage was engaging in unethical "coaching" of the alleged victim, inserting words into his mouth and repeating them multiple times, insisting the events happened — even as the alleged victim remained doubtful and uncertain.

Image

Michigan State Police report shows accuser cannot 

recall any specific incidents of abuse

According to the source, LePage is demonstrating clear bias against Perrone, manipulating the witness to give incriminating testimony against the priest and using a word ("sodomy") that the witness himself never used.

Michigan State Police investigator Richard Lutz rejected LePage's findings after his June interview with the alleged victim.

"In D/Sgt LePage's report she states that [accuser] was sodomozed by Fr. Perrone on a camping trip but does not list any specific incident to support that claim," Lutz's report reads. "[LePage's] report states that [accuser] claims this was witnessed by two other altar boys. These statements were not supported in my interview of [accuser]."

"[LePage's] report continues stating that [accuser] began to be abused in the 8th grade but does not state specifically what kind of abuse was administered," the report continues. 

As a result of Lutz's interview with the accuser, who admitted he could recall no specific incidents of abuse, the Michigan State Police chose not to pursue the allegations and closed its investigation into Perrone.

A Track Record of Manipulating Witnesses

It's not the first time LePage has been accused of falsely inserting words in a witness' mouth. 

LePage came under fire after a former altar boy accused her of deceptively inserting words in his testimony that appear to incriminate Perrone.

James Fortenberry, who spent time with the accuser as a youth at Perrone's mother's lakehouse, testified in an affidavit that he never witnessed or experienced any inappropriate behavior by Perrone. Interviewed over the phone by LePage, he told her that while he and others spent nights in the guestroom of St. Peter's parish rectory, he never saw or experienced any abuse.


 

But in her notes, LePage falsely wrote that Fortenberry spent nights in "Fr. Perrone's bedroom," a point Fortenberry strenuously denies. 

"Ms. LePage asked me questions about Fr. Perrone and it quickly became clear that she was trying to manipulate me into saying that Fr. Perrone abused me, when this was not the case," Fortenberry wrote in his affidavit.

"Ms. LePage's notes of our interview show that she was not listening to what I was saying and that she conducted the interview based on her belief that Fr. Perrone abused me even though I told her this was not true," he continued.

In sworn testimony given on Oct. 29, Fortenberry said of LePage, "I felt like she was trying to taint — take what I said and almost groom it to what she wanted me to say."

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Nancy LePage's name appears as a contributor

to Msgr. Bugarin's parish festival (May 2019 bulletin)

LePage and Bugarin have a longtime association.

LePage was employed as athletic director at St. Isaac Jogues Catholic School during the same time Bugarin was appointed administrator there in 2012.

Her association with Bugarin continues to this day, as she was a sponsor of his parish festival in the spring at St. Joan of Arc parish, where Bugarin is pastor. Her name is listed among a number of others who financially contributed to his parish by selling raffle tickets for the festival.

Church Militant could not confirm whether LePage is a parishioner at Bugarin's parish. Her years-long association with Bugarin sheds light on why she was chosen to help him investigate the Perrone case and to conduct the interview with the accuser in Bugarin's presence.

A Vulnerable Accuser

Chris Kolomjec, attorney for Fr. Perrone, told Church Militant he believes the accuser is a victim not of Fr. Perrone but of the archdiocese of Detroit, which is "using" a vulnerable person for its own agenda.

The archdiocesan file reveals that in the accuser's interview with Marge Huggard, victim assistance coordinator for the archdiocese of Detroit, the accuser reveals he has been under psychological care for most of his life, including being hospitalized for mental and emotional problems. He is on multiple types of medication to deal with his various psychological issues, including psychosis and hallucinations.

These facts raise serious questions about the credibility and reliability of the accuser with regard to his alleged "repressed memory" from 40 years ago. It also raises questions about how the archdiocesan review board could have come to the conclusion that his allegation was "credible" ("having a semblance of truth"): Was the review board made aware of all the facts of the case? If not, why not? If so, how could it come to the conclusion that the allegation was "credible"?

"The thing that is most disturbing is that when you realize what the original decree that was issued to Fr. Perrone said, none of it is supported by the statements made by the first [alleged] victim," Kolomjec said. "I've confronted the delegate about that ... and their answer to that is, 'We'll take all that out.'"


 

"So my thought is, how did it get in there?" he asked. "The number, the events that they claim, it wasn't there! It wasn't in his statement. It wasn't in his statement to anyone. So where did they concoct this?"

"So that tells me somebody was targeting Fr. Perrone," he said.

After the media publicity surrounding Perrone's case, a second accuser stepped forward, leading the archdiocese to conduct further investigation. But his allegations have fallen apart in the light of new evidence.

In addition to being a three-time felon, evidence reveals he is a good friend of the accuser and his family, leading to questions of bias and collusion.

And on interviewing the accuser's family, Kolomjec revealed that the accuser's claims were directly contradicted by the facts.

"Fr. Perrone does not know this second accuser, and several of the second accuser’s statements are demonstrably false," said Perrone's attorneys in an Oct. 31 press release. "Specifically, the accuser claimed his family was a member of St. Peter's parish, when they were not, and he also claimed he was an altar boy at St. Peter's parish, when he was not."

Incredibly, after the archdiocese learned that Perrone's attorneys had interviewed the second accuser's family, the archdiocese reported Perrone's attorneys to police.

"The archdiocese called the police on us, saying we were 'harassing' the family of a so-called victim," Kolomjec said. "Obviously the police didn't do anything. It was ridiculous. It's outrageous."

"I think they thought it was necessary ... that, as the original [alleged] victim's case was falling apart, they panicked, and they had to find something or somebody and they did what we call 'Kavanaughed' them," he continued, referring to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, accused last year by Christine Blasey Ford of abuse. Her claims were eventually contradicted by the evidence. 

"To date, the Archdiocese of Detroit has shown little interest in uncovering the truth, and instead seems focused on proving guilt at all costs," the Oct. 31 press release states. "Fr. Perrone remains hopeful that truth and justice will prevail, and is grateful for all of the prayers and support from countless supporters."
 


 

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