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As Church Militant continues to dig deeper into the case of Detroit priest Fr. Eduard Perrone and the archdiocese's severe mishandling of it, a number of disturbing facts are coming to light.
Let's start with the actual members of the archdiocesan review board itself, that body which decided to rule against Fr. Perrone and go public with his smearing in the statement where Abp. Allen Vigneron and his staff refused to let him declare his innocence.
The webpage for the six-member review board proudly announces its independence from the archdiocese, but just how independent is it actually?
First, retired Michigan Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Michael Talbot is the chairman of the board.
Oddly enough, he is also a member of the law firm which represents the archdiocese of Detroit: Bodman, the most expensive law firm in the state.
The question needs to be asked right off the bat: How is a review board independent when its chairman also legally represents the archdiocese? That connection reeks of a conflict of interest.
He gets paid by the very firm that makes decisions to protect the interests of the archdiocese and Abp. Allen Vigneron, not victims — nor the accused, for that matter.
Another questionable member regarding the board's so-called independence is former head of the child abuse unit for the Wayne County prosecutor's office, Nancy Diehl.
Nancy Diehl is the blood sister of the ranking member at Bodman, Robert J. Diehl.
How can this be anything else other than a conflict of interest?
As Church Militant broke exclusively a couple of months ago, Judge Michael Talbot was accused by law enforcement of trying to shut down the investigation of the notorious Fr. Robert DeLand in Saginaw, with claims that he threatened local prosecutors.
Even the Michigan attorney general admitted publicly that a grievance had been filed against Talbot for threatening and intimidating behavior towards prosecutors.
How is this in any way an independent board?
When a given case comes before them, at least two members have only one concern in mind: whatever is in the best interest of the archdiocese — not the victim, not the accused. This is grossly unfair and unjust.
Also deeply involved is Msgr. Michael Bugarin, who is Vigneron's episcopal vicar and delegate for matters of clergy misconduct. Bugarin also is listed as part of the "support staff" assisting the review board in its activities — what?
In that capacity (we don't even know really), he may actually be pushing for the accusation against Fr. Perrone and any accused priest to go forward — again, not with the accused's interest in mind at all, but the archdiocese's best interests exclusively.
The more you learn about the alleged independent review board, the more you see what looks like a kangaroo court come into focus with the deck already being stacked — again, not necessarily in favor of the victim or the accused, but the archdiocese.
Why are Vigneron's attorneys sitting on an independent review board?
Why are decisions being made by Vigneron's priests as to how to proceed against, or in favor of, any given case?
What priest is going to potentially anger his bishop by pushing for something — let's say acquittal, or a solid defense of an accused priest, whichever way — that the archbishop doesn't approve of?
The truth is the independence of this board is little else than a rumor with archdiocesan attorneys and chancery officials running the show — chancery officials who might have an ax to grind against an accused clergy member.
And every time a violation of procedural or substantive law regulating clergy sexual misconduct accusations and their canonical review is committed by a diocesan official — for example, the publication of an accused's priest's name on a list on the diocesan website — the presumption of impartiality of any process is completely undermined and reversed — like they did with Fr. Perrone.
We aren't saying Bugarin has an ax to grind, just that, given all the errors and incompetence he has shown as "Episcopal Vicar" and "Delegate of the Archbishop" in matters of clergy sexual misconduct, he should not be dealing with the board. In fact, he should resign immediately.
And if he does not resign voluntarily, his decree of appointment should be immediately revoked by Abp. Vigneron if either one of them have any honor.
This is calling into great focus the severe problems and issues with the whole process.
In fact, the very process we are talking about here is the one laid out by the near infamous Dallas Charter and what are now called the "Essential Norms" revised by the U.S. bishops in 2006.
But the reality is that the entire process was actually born in the twisted mind of and assembled by, in large part, the serial homopredator Theodore McCarrick and, as we can now surmise reasonably, designed to protect bishops from scrutiny against charges of sexual malfeasance.
As for accused priests, often times the "Essential Norms" are weaponized against good priests that a bad bishop wants to simply sideline.
The "Essential Norms" are not some neutral document, they are a powerful tool — like fire, they can be used rightly or wrongly.
When a given review board appointed by the local bishop in a given diocese wants "to go after a bad priest" or neutralize a good one, the "Essential Norms" are one big weapon.
The grumbling has gotten so loud among good priests about the abuse of the "Essential Norms" that many are beginning to hope that the Fr. Perrone case will be the impetus for a long hard look at it again by the nation's bishops — with giving them a serious makeover.
Through a series of strange coincidences, Church Militant came to know the identity of the accuser of Fr. Perrone many weeks ago. We are not at liberty to say how we came into possession of the information, but we know and have known since at least May.
The case as it was relayed to us weeks and weeks ago was so odd that, after digging, we dismissed it as not credible — which brings us to the word "credible" used in Abp. Vigneron's statement to describe the single 40-year-old charge against Fr. Perrone.
The word "credible" which Msgr. Bugarin bandies about freely is, for all intents and purposes in American diocesan chanceries, a very dangerous word because it is being commonly employed in alleged clergy misconduct cases in an entirely different way than authorized by canon law.
In regular usage, it means exactly what it sounds like: "worthy of belief."
But in the arcane language of canon law, it is a higher standard than what canon 1717 of the Code of Canon Law actually requires as a criterion to be used: "semblance of truth." That is a positive determination, not a negative one. This gets a little into the weeds here, but allow us to explain because it's important. God is, after all, in the details.
Currently, American diocesan officials are using the terminology "unless an allegation be manifestly false or frivolous" as the definition of a "credible" allegation.
This non-canonical definition actually shifts the burden of proof to the accused priest to demonstrate, not just allege in his defense, that any allegation made against him was "manifestly," "obviously," "evidently" false or frivolous, as opposed to the diocese actually having positive or affirmative evidence in support of a claim of sexual abuse.
That is a vast difference between common chancery Orwellian "newspeak" and the official canonical criteria legislated by the popes over many centuries.
When Abp. Vigneron and his non-independent review board and Msgr. Bugarin approved the use of the language against Fr. Perrone that the charge had a "semblance of truth," that is grossly misleading.
In reality, the term, "semblance of truth," according to the AOD itself in its own documents, is defined as "it is not manifestly false or frivolous" or "serious" or "substantive." That's from the AOD's outdated Sexual Abuse of Minors Policy dating back to 2007.
Again, the phrase "semblance of truth" in canon law carries a vastly different meaning. It does not mean that any allegation is credible unless it can be rebutted as
"manifestly false or frivolous" by the accused priest.
However, according to the AOD's and most diocesan sex abuse policies currently in effect, the practical bar that needs to be crossed in a case like this is extremely low — so low in fact that it's almost laughable.
So for Abp. Vigneron to approve a press release with language like "credible" and "semblance of truth" is massively disingenuous and dangerous and a misleading account taken of what those terms actually mean, in the context of the AOD's own actual policies, practices and posted Q&As found online on its website.
In short, they deliberately let the public think they mean something that they themselves say they don't mean.
Church Militant, knowing details of this charge from months ago, know that the claim came forward from a "repressed memory" — something extremely dubious — and according to the majority of expert psychologists, far from credible.
Archbishop Vigneron and his "independent" review board knew this as well, which begs the questions:
Why would a review board comprised in large part of Vigneron’s attorneys decide to accept a dubious claim; and then make a very public show of yanking him from public view; and give the Associated Press an interview during the investigation; and announce the allegation with all the bells and whistles it could muster, deliberately using misleading definitions for the canonical term of art "semblance of truth"; and have hundreds of millions be exposed to the story in the secular media; and not even offer Fr. Perrone an opportunity to at the very least deny the allegation publicly and claim his innocence publicly?
Something is not right with this case — the charge, the handling of it, the review board's treatment of it; especially the review board's handling of it, something is not being told about the review board's approach to this case: their rationale.
Frankly, it seems like something is being covered up here or dodged, trying to be swept under the rug.
And Vigneron's hitman Bugarin's non-stop appeal to "the process" isn't cutting it. The process, in this case, does not just appear to have been corrupted.
It manifestly has been corrupted in violation of the Pope's own recently publicized guidelines and the canon law of the Catholic Church.
This is the anatomy of the takedown of a highly respected priest ladies and gentlemen, a sleight of hand using deceptive language — using the words, but switching their meanings.
Church Militant is developing multiple leads on this case, speaking with archdiocesan staff who actually know a great deal about this case and the history.
Rest assured that we will not rest until all the malfeasance infecting "processes" like the one injuring Fr. Perrone are exposed, because there is something very big and unseemly here to expose.