DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a first for the archdiocese of Detroit, and possibly for the U.S. Church, the archbishop is being sued for fraud related to a sex abuse allegation.
A lawsuit filed Friday by a group of parishioners at Our Lady of the Assumption parish is accusing both Abp. Allen Vigneron (recently elected vice president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops) and Episcopal Vicar Msgr. Michael Bugarin of fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress, after their pastor, Fr. Eduard Perrone, was suspended over what they claim is a fabricated rape charge.
"John Doe refused to give Bugarin what he wanted, so Bugarin just fabricated a rape allegation out of desperation and wishful thinking," the complaint reads.
The archdiocese announced Perrone's suspension in July, declaring as "credible" a 40-year-old allegation based on a former altar boy's "repressed memory." Court documents reveal the accuser suffers from psychological problems, hospitalized several times for mental health issues, and is taking multiple types of medication to deal with psychosis and hallucinations — calling into question the credibility of his "repressed memory."
Perrone passed a polygraph test last year with the highest score possible, according to the administrator, a former police lieutenant who specializes in testing alleged sex offenders. Additionally, about 75 current and former altar boys have signed affidavits swearing to the priest's moral integrity and declaring they have never witnessed any inappropriate conduct on his part.
The Michigan State Police found no evidence of abuse by Perrone, closing its investigation after John Doe contradicted himself and denied recalling any abuse.
According to the complaint, John Doe's wife contacted the Detroit archdiocese on May 24, 2018, claiming her husband had admitted to being abused by Perrone. In a follow-up discussion with Bugarin in September 2018, Doe backtracked, denying a number of claims made in the May 24th phone call, claiming "he had no recollection" of many things he had said.
Sergeant Detective Nancy LePage, an employee of the Macomb County Sheriff's Department and a parishioner at Bugarin's church, was tapped to help investigate claims against Perrone on behalf of the archdiocese. She is being sued in a separate lawsuit by Perrone for her complicity in reportedly fabricating the sodomy charge against him.
Records show LePage interviewed John Doe for the first time on Aug. 27, 2018, failing to record the interview and destroying her notes afterward. In fact, LePage consistently violated protocol in all her dealings with the accuser, failing to record her calls and shredding her notes.
"Contrary to the procedures set forth in the Michigan Model Policy: The Law Enforcement Response to Sexual Assault for Adults and Young Adults ('Model Policy'), LePage did not record this or any other interview with John Doe," the complaint reads. "She also shredded all of the notes she took of any interview conducted in connection with her investigation."
After an initial interview with John Doe didn't net the desired results, LePage and Bugarin called the accuser in for a second interview on June 27, 2019.
"Bugarin and LePage were concerned that not making a public display of doing 'something' may bring a harsh glare of negative publicity that attends every allegation of clergy sex abuse, credible or not," the complaint reads. "If John Doe could be intimidated and manipulated into saying something salacious, Bugarin could satisfy the Review Board's concerns, trigger the removal of Fr. Perrone and get ahead of the imminent AP story and the attendant publicity."
The Associated Press (AP) had been contacted by the accuser's wife months earlier and had been asking questions about the case. The AP then contacted the archdiocese in June 2019, leading to "panic" among chancery officials.
"This caused significant consternation at the AOD [Archdiocese of Detroit] and with Bugarin because they sensed that they would be subject to an AP news story portraying them as having taken no action in the face of a complaint of clergy sex abuse," according to the complaint.
LePage interviewed John Doe again on June 27, hoping to get more details of the alleged abuse. The transcript shows that LePage introduced the word "sodomized" into the discussion, asking Doe if he was anally penetrated by Perrone. John Doe says he cannot "vividly recall" any abuse happening, but LePage and Bugarin both pressure him to confess abuse, which he repeatedly denies remembering.
A third and final interview took place on July 2, a transcript showing that both Bugarin and LePage placed pressure on Doe to admit abuse.
"The interrogation techniques used by Bugarin on John Doe were unconscionable," the complaint states. "It was clear that John Doe had no status with Bugarin or the AOD unless he made a claim of sex abuse."
LePage reminded John Doe of his personal relationships with the Macomb County Sheriff and employees of the Sheriff's office; of the "safety plan" the Macomb County Sheriff put in place "should any goof ball from Church Militant" bother him; and of all the support they had offered John Doe over the past year. In return, for all of their concern and consideration, Bugarin asked John Doe for "something" about Fr. Perrone that would justify all of the considerable attention paid to John Doe and his family since his wife called in the complaint in May 2018.
Facing "intense pressure and manipulation by Bugarin," John Doe then changed his story. Even so, "John Doe refused to give Bugarin what he wanted, so Bugarin just fabricated a rape allegation out of desperation and wishful thinking," according to the lawsuit.
"Bugarin knew the allegation was not true because John Doe told him repeatedly that he was not raped by Fr. Perrone," the document states. "He made this statement with deliberate malice, knowing it would harm Fr. Perrone and Plaintiffs."
Bugarin's accomplice LePage has been accused of witness manipulation in another case.
She 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 John Doe 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.
LePage, however, 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."
Bugarin brought the rape allegation before the archdiocesan review board, Abp. Vigneron and others, and based on this claim, the review board determined the claim to be "credible," and Abp. Vigneron suspended Perrone.
"Bugarin knew that his deliberate actions to lie about Fr. Perrone in order to shield the AOD from negative publicity could be uncovered because it was sheer fabrication," the lawsuit reads. "However, he also believed that, once the allegation was made public, other accusers would likely come forward."
Another accuser appeared, but his credibility was immediately called into question after it was revealed he was a convicted felon who was a close friend of John Doe's sister, and who lied about being a former parishioner and altar boy at Perrone's previous parish.
The lawsuit confirms that John Doe even called up Bugarin, after reading Church Militant's Nov. 25 report titled "Detroit Archdiocese Engaged in Witness Manipulation" to remind Bugarin "that he never said he was sodomized." If John Doe had never read Church Militant's report, he may never have learned that Bugarin and LePage had taken the rape allegation to the archdiocese, which used that allegedly false claim to suspend Perrone.
In spite of the questionable tactics of his episcopal vicar being revealed to Vigneron months ago, the archbishop has refused to reinstate Perrone, who continues to languish without an assignment, forbidden by the diocese to set foot on his parish property or even to have any contact with parishioners, isolating him from his parish family.
The archdiocese of Detroit has yet to publicly respond to the lawsuit.
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Fr. Perrone's Suspension: A Political Hit Job
Fr. Perrone Maintains His Innocence
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Traditional Detroit Priest Categorically Denies Abuse Allegation
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Anatomy of a Takedown