DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - After nearly three years, a falsely accused Michigan priest is being reinstated to active ministry.
The archdiocese of Detroit is restoring faculties to Fr. Eduard Perrone, wrongly accused of sexually assaulting a male teen 40 years ago. Even so, instead of the archdiocese issuing a public apology for injuring the priest's reputation, Fr. Perrone is being forced to apologize as a condition of being reinstated.
The archdiocese, led by Abp. Allen Vigneron, suspended Perrone in July 2019, after an accuser claimed he had recovered suppressed memories that Perrone had "groped" him in the 1970s.
The archdiocesan prosecutor, Msgr. Michael Bugarin, added a "sodomy" charge, relying on a false report submitted by Macomb County detective Nancy LePage. A parishioner at Bugarin's parish, LePage had been tapped by Bugarin to investigate the case.
LePage and Bugarin interviewed the accuser in July 2019. Transcripts show LePage pressured the accuser to say he was "sodomized" by Perrone, but the accuser explicitly denies the allegation. LePage included the fabricated charge in her report anyway, which was submitted to the Detroit archdiocesan review board — with Bugarin's full approval.
Transcripts also show LePage saying she wanted to beat Fr. Perrone "into the ground." Bugarin laughed at the suggestion, adding, "We'll turn the cameras off and shut the recorder off."
As a result of the falsified report, the archdiocese suspended Fr. Perrone, banned him from Assumption Grotto parish and forbade him from contacting parishioners. Bugarin also went to media to propagate the false story.
Perrone then filed defamation lawsuits separately against Bugarin and LePage for the fabricated rape charge.
"Bugarin made the false rape allegation to members of the Archdiocesan Review Board, the Archbishop and others," the lawsuit stated. "He knew the allegation was not true because John Doe told him repeatedly that he was not raped by Fr. Perrone. He made this statement with deliberate malice, knowing it would harm Fr. Perrone."
After the accuser read about the fabricated sodomy charge in a Church Militant report, he texted the archdiocese to make clear he had never been sodomized.
"Having been caught in his lie by the very person he pretended to be 'protecting' with his campaign to defame and humiliate Fr. Perrone," the lawsuit noted, "Bugarin refused to apologize to Fr. Perrone or correct the patently false statements he made about him to the persons to whom he made his defamatory comments."
Perrone was vindicated in his lawsuit against LePage, who agreed to pay him $125,000 after a three-person case evaluation panel unanimously found in Perrone's favor.
While the archdiocese sought Rome's permission to move forward with Perrone's canonical prosecution for alleged abuse of minors, the Vatican rejected Detroit's request in April 2021.
"In canon law, that's not just a victory; that's a grand-slam homerun," said Chris Kolomjec, civil attorney for Fr. Perrone, in comments to Church Militant at the time. "It's the equivalent of a police officer or detective bringing a case to a prosecutor and getting told, 'There's no evidence here; go away."
In spite of the victory in Rome, the archdiocese launched new disciplinary proceedings against Fr. Perrone in 2021, charging him with various canonical crimes, including "disobedience" for refusing to withdraw his defamation lawsuit against Bugarin.
The archdiocese handed down its decision last week, finding Perrone guilty of one charge — disobedience — for refusing to withdraw the defamation lawsuit against Bugarin when Abp. Vigneron requested it.
In light of that decision, the archdiocese published a deceptive statement Feb. 17, misleading the public to think Fr. Perrone had been found guilty of "abuse" rather than "disobedience."
The archdiocese also imposed certain conditions if Perrone wished to return to ministry:
If Fr. Perrone chooses to accept the decision of the judges and fulfills the requirements of the penalties, some restrictions from public ministry will be lifted. If Fr. Perrone chooses to appeal the decision of the judges, according to Church law, all current restrictions on his ministry remain in force until the conclusion of the case.
Among those conditions, Perrone was required to drop the lawsuit and issue a public apology to Bugarin.
In light of the uncertainty of the outcome of the canonical case on appeal and the possibility of being perpetually suspended from ministry, Perrone chose to issue an apology — in spite of being the wronged party.
"I was found guilty of willful disobedience to the legitimate commands of the Archbishop," he wrote, "of impeding the freedom of the Archbishop and his Vicars in the fulfillment their ecclesiastical ministry, and, by means of my public statements, of injuring the good reputation of Msgr. Bugarin."
"As a sincere follower of Christ and as a priest of His holy Church, I wish to apologize to the Archbishop and Msgr. Bugarin for any scandal these actions of mine have caused and state publicly that I am truly sorry for them," he continued.
In spite of Bugarin's role in propagating a false narrative against Perrone to the public and to media, leading to defamatory headlines worldwide, the archdiocese did not impose a reciprocal requirement that Bugarin apologize to Perrone for injuring his good reputation.
"Father Perrone prayed long and hard about this," said Kolomjec in comments to Church Militant. "He respects the decision [of the court]."
"Ultimately, he wants to put this behind him, and he wants to work to reconcile the parish and himself with the archbishop," he added.
As part of the canonical proceedings, this reporter was asked to submit an affidavit last year confirming Perrone had never been a source of Church Militant's reporting on the case. Based on Perrone's Friday public statement, the archdiocese did not find him guilty of publicizing the case by going to media. As the canonical case is confidential, it is unknown what other charges Perrone was cleared of by the archdiocese.
"Additionally, in the hope of healing and reconciliation," Perrone stated, "I call upon the parishioners of Assumption Grotto and my supporters to follow my lead and renew our support and loyalty to Abp. Vigneron and to renounce any want of charity that may have resulted from my actions."
While Perrone will be allowed to resume public ministry, the archdiocese has banned him from offering Mass at his parish, Assumption Grotto. Critics say this is retaliation against parishioners, who filed a fraud lawsuit against Abp. Allen Vigneron in 2020, accusing him of misusing Catholic donations to prosecute their pastor.
Perrone is also required to seek permission from the archdiocese to offer Mass at other parishes.
Local Catholics are unhappy with the conditions imposed by the archdiocese.
"It's a bastard move by a wicked, conniving archbishop and his henchman," said Michael Voris, CEO of Church Militant and former parishioner of Assumption Grotto.
Voris confronted Bugarin in the vestibule of Assumption Grotto parish on July 7, 2019, the weekend Perrone's suspension was announced. The public statement read by the archdiocese failed to note that the priest had maintained his innocence.
In the face of multiple questions from Voris and others as to why the statement failed to note that Perrone had denied the allegations, Bugarin simply repeated, "It's just part of the process."
"You were sitting in the room with him. ... Why don't you, in the midst of completely ripping his reputation to shreds here, put in here that he maintains his innocence?" Voris asked."Why wouldn't you include that in the process?"
"That's just the way we work," Bugarin replied, leading to angry reactions from the crowd.
Bugarin afterwards claimed he felt "terrorized" by parishioners — most of whom were elderly or middle-aged women, some distraught and in tears.
2/19/22: This article has been updated to clarify that Rome had nothing to do with the recent archdiocesan decision finding Fr. Perrone guilty of "disobedience."