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DETROIT (ChurchMilitant.com) - After four years, a Michigan priest falsely accused of sex abuse has finally been restored to his parish.
Father Eduard Perrone offered the Traditional Latin Mass Sunday at Assumption Grotto in Detroit. According to a parishioner, Perrone announced during his homily that Abp. Allen Vigneron had given him permission to offer Mass again at Grotto.
He also announced that he had "aged" while he was away, and that he will soon be retiring. The current administrator, Fr. John Bustamante, will continue to offer Mass and the sacraments to the faithful.
Perrone thanked everyone "for all the prayers he didn't deserve," and the congregation applauded after his remarks.
"Yesterday I celebrated my first Sunday Mass at Assumption Grotto in over four years," wrote Perrone in an email Monday to friends. "It was a very special Mass, as you may imagine."
"There remain some minor restrictions not lifted which will be addressed in February 2024 when the term of the restrictions expires," he noted.
Archbishop Vigneron suspended Perrone — with a reputation for orthodoxy and promoting the traditional liturgy — in July 2019 after an accuser claimed he had recovered suppressed memories that Perrone had "groped" him in the 1970s, when he was an altar boy.
The archdiocesan prosecutor and episcopal vicar, Msgr. Michael Bugarin, added a "sodomy" charge, relying on a false report submitted by Macomb County detective Nancy LePage. LePage, who was a parishioner at Bugarin's parish, 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, and headlines played for weeks in the Associated Press, Fox News and other major media outlets promoting the false accusations.
More than 50 altar boys signed affidavits testifying to Perrone's integrity and virtue during the time they knew him and worked with him.
Perrone filed defamation lawsuits separately against Bugarin and LePage.
"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, finding him guilty of "disobedience" for refusing to withdraw the defamation lawsuit against Bugarin.
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." Moral theologian Dr. Janet Smith, who was consulted during the canonical process, concluded that Perrone had not acted in disobedience by seeking civil recourse to vindicate his rights.
The archdiocese imposed certain conditions if Perrone wished to return to ministry, including dropping the lawsuit and issuing 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.
"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.
The archdiocese did not impose a reciprocal requirement that Bugarin apologize to Perrone for injuring his good reputation through propagating a false rape charge.
"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.
While Perrone was allowed to resume public ministry as a guest at various churches, the archdiocese banned him from offering Mass at his own parish. Instead, Perrone resumed his music ministry at Assumption Grotto, meeting weekly with the Latin schola and leading the choir during Mass.
Sunday was the first time Perrone has offered public Mass at his parish since July 2019.
8/7/23: This article was updated with contents from an email from Fr. Perrone.