Detroit, Mich., Feb 25, 2020 / 06:00 pm (CNA).- A group of Detroit Catholics has filed a lawsuit claiming that the Archdiocese of Detroit fabricated an allegation of rape against their pastor in order to avoid media criticism about its handling of abuse allegations, and has mishandled the canonical case against him.
The Archdiocese of Detroit said it can not speak on the specifics of the case, but that it takes allegations of clerical abuse very seriously.
The lawsuit alleges that an archdiocesan official “twisted…allegations and fabricated a rape charge against Fr. Perrone in order to force the AOD to remove Fr. Perrone, and, thereby, shield the AOD and [Msgr. Michael] Bugarin from a negative AP story.”
“Like Fr. Perrone, Plaintiffs are devout, traditional Roman Catholics. They were severely shocked, shamed, embarrassed, and humiliated by the accusations against their priest and friend, Fr. Perrone.”
In July 2019, Fr. Eduard Perrone was temporarily removed from ministry as pastor of Assumption Grotto Parish in Detroit, amid an allegation that he had groped a former altar boy. The priest denied the allegation.
After a preliminary investigation, the archdiocesan review board “found that there was a semblance of truth to the allegation,” Monsignor Mike Bugarin of the Detroit archdiocese told CNA July 9.
According to the Archdiocese of Detroit, “If the Review Board finds a complaint credible, it sends notice to Archbishop Vigneron, who forwards the case to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which reviews and renders judgments in all cases involving the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults by clergy.”
In Perrone’s case, a July 7 statement from the archdiocese announced that the review board had deemed an allegation against him to be credible, and that “further determination on the matter now falls to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
But Brien Dux, the lead plaintiff in the case, told CNA Feb. 17 that he believes Perrone’s case “has not been sent to the Vatican.”
“Our complaint is not with the Vatican process,” Dux told CNA. “If the case was sent to the Vatican as we were told it would be, we probably would not be filing this lawsuit.”
A CDF official told CNA that the congregation already has an open file on the case. But Perrone’s attorney, Christopher Kolmjec, said that while aspects of the case might have been sent to the CDF, he believes that Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit has not yet sent to the Vatican his vota, an essential aspect of the case file that ordinarily is required before the CDF makes a decision about how the case should be handled.
For its part, the Archdiocese of Detroit declined repeatedly to comment on whether all or part of the case has been sent to the Vatican, citing confidentiality.
The Archdiocese of Detroit did tell CNA in July that the complaint which led to Perrone’s removal from ministry concerned the priest’s “earlier years of ministry,” and was the first received against the priest.
After receiving the complaint in 2018, Bugarin said the archdiocese “turned it over not only to the local prosecutor, but also to the Michigan Attorney General’s office.”
Initially, per an agreement between the archdiocese and the six county prosecutors covering the Archdiocese of Detroit’s territory, the complaint was given only to local law enforcement, who began to investigate the claim.
“They in turn continued to do the investigation, until the Michigan Attorney General came in and announced an investigation of the seven dioceses of the state of in the Michigan on the handling of clergy sex abuse crisis,” said Bugarin.
The lawsuit claims that in 2018, the wife of the former altar boy called an archdiocesan hotline to report that her husband had been abused by the priest in the late 1970s.
The alleged victim said that the priest had groped him during swim parties at a family lake house, the Detroit Free Press reported, served minors wine, and hosted boys on rectory and camping overnights.
According to the Detroit Free Press, the alleged victim initially claimed to have been raped, but later changed his story and said he was groped and fondled only. Police reports suggest that allegations changed because the accuser was struggling to tell a painful story, the Detroit Free Press reported.
The lawsuit, on the other hand, claims the alleged victim denied to police that he had ever been sexually abused by Perrone.
The parishioners say the accuser eventually conceded to make any allegation of misconduct only because he was manipulated by Church officials, especially Bugarin, who was determined to remove Perrone from his ministry.
The suit claims Bugarin “brow beat” the accuser “in an effort to force him to say that he was raped by Fr. Perrone.” When that was unsuccessful, the suit alleges, “Bugarin just fabricated a rape allegation out of desparation and wishful thinking.”
The parishioners claim that Bugarin is the accuser’s “spiritual advisor” and should not have been entrusted with investigating the allegation. For that reason, and others he declined to enumerate, Kolomjec told CNA that Bugarin has acted unethically in investigating and overseeing the case, and that Perrone’s legal team has “filed an ethics complaint against Msgr. Bugarin and a formal request for his removal as Delegate and investigator from the investigation with the archbishop.”
Parishioners say that Bugarin’s efforts to force an allegation of rape against Perrone “caused Plaintiffs to experience severe emotional distress.”
“Bugarin is not a traditional Catholic and is opposed to many of the Plaintiffs’ views and efforts to reform the Catholic Church. Bugarin knew that Plaintiffs would be especially harmed by the public repudiation of Fr. Perrone. Bugarin and the AOD’s conduct in creating false child-rape allegations against Plaintiffs’ long-time pastor and priest is the type of extreme and outrageous conduct Michigan law recognizes gives rise to a claim in tort,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit also alleges that Perrone “was not provided an opportunity to answer or refute these allegations before the AOD summarily removed him” and announced publicly that it had found a “semblance of truth” to the allegation.
The Archdiocese of Detroit declined to comment on that charge.
After Perrone was removed from ministry, a second accuser came forward to claim that the priest had in 1981 sexually fondled him while the two were riding in a car. Perrone denied that allegation.
The lawsuit claims that the the second accuser “told his story several times but never in the same way, often confusing and contradicting the key facts.” The allegation “was not credible on its face,” the lawsuit says.
The plaintiffs are seeking “damages in excess of $20,000,” Dux told CNA.
Dux said the plaintiffs based their lawsuit upon a lawsuit Perrone himself had filed in Dec. 2019 against a county investigator, who, he claims, defamed him in the course of the investigation.
He added that “the process being followed by Monsignor Bugarin and the Archbishop which is not transparent to us. They stated initially the reason Fr. Perrone was removed was due to a rape allegation, but have since changed their reason to ‘boundary violations.’”
“With Fr. Perrone so close to retirement, and with the duration of the Vatican process, this extensive delay and changing story from the Archdiocese has us concerned there will not be justice,” Dux said.
For his part, Perrone told the Detroit Free Press that he believes the matter is ideological.
“This is an attempt to get me out,” the priest said.
Perrone counts among his supporters conservative internet figure Michael Voris, who leads the “Church Militant” website.
In a series of videos released by the site in July, Voris can be seen with Grotto parishioners asking questions of Bugarin. Voris told CNA that he is not now a parishioner at the parish; he said that “when I saw this issue developing into a Story that it was apparent I would have the lead on, I spoke with my associate pastor and officially withdrew from parish membership.”
In the first video, a parishioner asks what Catholics can do to support Perrone. Voris says, “you can’t do anything, that’s the point.”
After accusing the archdiocese of mishandling the announcement of Perrone’s removal, and attempting to engage Bugarin on several points, Voris can be seen walking away from Bugarin in frustration.
In the second video, in response to a remark by Bugarin about the process of investigating cases of clerical misconduct, Voris says that “the process was set up by Theodore McCarrick.”
“The process was set up by a homosexual predator cardinal,” Voris adds.
Asked whether he believes Perrone is being treated fairly, Bugarin says “yes.”
Voris told CNA by email Feb. 19 that he is a supporter of Perrone, both “in general,” and “with SPECIFIC regard to this SPECIFIC case because before it became public, we had done our due diligence and heavily suspected something was not ‘right’ about what we had been told about the ‘accusations.’”
“We KNOW what’s in the file, because we know the background of the case and have spoken with those ‘close’ to John Doe. In short – we know the entire story. The File that Vigneron Has desperately tried to keep hidden – even to the point of being potentially charged with contempt of court over Thanksgiving Day weekend – provides the AoDs own documentation that they know they are lying and this whole case is fraudulent,” Voris added.
“It is correct for these people to not trust the AoD – whatsoever. For example – seven months later, no case has yet been filed with the CDF at all,” Voris said. He told CNA he knows this through “sources in Rome AND AoD.”
Voris added that “IF such a case were to be filed, God knows what pack of lies it would contain. So it’s not really a question of ‘trusting the CDF per se,’ but rather, it depends on what they would believe in good faith is presented to them.”
The July 7 statement of the Detroit archdiocese does not specify the exact nature of the charge against Perrone, calling it “a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.”
The archdiocese declined to comment on the charges made by the lawsuit. But a statement provided to CNA said that “unlike legal cases in civil or criminal law, Church Law does not have or require degrees of sexual misconduct…thus, ‘any sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable person’ of ‘any nature or degree’ must – under Church Law – proceed through this process.”
“In this process, the Church respects the privacy and personal safety of all involved – those bringing the complaint forward and the accused priest or deacon. Other than public notification that the priest or deacon is currently restricted in his ministry because allegation(s) deemed neither manifestly false nor frivolous are under review, a (arch)diocese is not permitted to discuss any further details of the case.”
“The only process that can resolve a question about an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable person by a priest or deacon in accord with Church Law is a Church Law process, not the civil courts,” the archdiocese added.
Perrone is a co-founder of Opus Bono Sacerdotii, a Michigan charity that in 2018 faced charges that it had misused donations. Two of the group’s founders were forced out of the group in response to the attorney general’s investigation. One was prohibited from ever again operating a non-profit in Michigan.
At the time, Perrone said that he never viewed himself as a director and had no knowledge of Opus Bono’s organizational structure; he considered himself a spiritual adviser to the group.
The group was founded to support priests accused of sexual misconduct and other disciplinary problems in the Church.