Father Eduard Perrone says he’s been vindicated in a sex abuse case against him, and he wants his job back.
The embattled priest found absolution in the justice system after suing a detective for defamation, alleging she fabricated the rape claim that got him suspended. The year-old lawsuit ended last week with a $125,000 settlement for Perrone — a rare win for an accused Catholic priest who convinced a three-person court advisory panel he deserved compensation for being defamed.
Specifically, Perrone argued the church built its case around a detective’s “fabricated” report he had sodomized an altar boy 40 years earlier, though the now-grown man has said that didn’t happen, according to church and police records. He said the detective also tried to corroborate the sodomy claim by pressuring another former altar boy into making accusations against him, though that now-grown man has said he never saw Perrone harm a child and the detective was trying to twist his words.
Meanwhile, Perrone still doesn’t have his job, and still no word from the church.
“The silence is deafening,” Perrone said Friday, still hopeful the Archdiocese of Detroit will reach out to him about his legal victory and return him to the priesthood.
“I was confident that I would be vindicated in this way,” Perrone, 72, said in an interview with the Free Press, stressing his case has “never been about the money.”
“It has been about restoring my good name and bringing me back to the parish, which I have served for 25 years,” Perrone said.
In July 2019, the archdiocese suspended Perrone with pay from his job at Assumption Grotto Church in Detroit over allegations he had molested an altar boy decades earlier. The archdiocese said there was a “semblance of truth” to the claim, and that it was obligated to investigate and suspend Perrone, who has adamantly denied the allegation.
“I know this didn’t happen,” said Perrone, who is currently forbidden from having any contact with his parishioners.
In February, Perrone’s case triggered an unprecedented lawsuit in Michigan, and possibly the country, when 20 Assumption Grotto parishioners sued the Detroit Archdiocese for $20 million, claiming it caused them emotional distress by taking away their priest. The lawsuit, which claims,among other things, the archdiocese wants to get rid of Perrone because he’s a conservative traditionalist, is still pending.
Two weeks after Perrone was suspended, a second man came forward and alleged Perrone inappropriately touched him while riding in the car with him four decades ago. Perrone has denied the allegation, saying he doesn’t know the second accuser and doesn’t recall him ever being an altar server for him.
It’s been 13 months since that second accuser surfaced.
To date, no others have publicly come forward with allegations of wrongdoing against Perrone, who has been a priest for 41 years.
The sodomy claim has been removed from Perrone’s case, though he remains under investigation for other alleged acts of misconduct, including groping and fondling that allegedly took place when he took two high school boys on a camping trip alone in the 1970s. Perrone, then 29, shared a tent with the two high school students, one of whom told the Free Press nothing improper took place. Perrone has adamantly denied harming either of the boys.
Archdiocese stays mum
Since removing him from the priesthood and stripping him of all clergy duties, the Archdiocese has said very little about the case.
But it did offer some commentary about the settlement reached a little over a week ago.
“The Archdiocese of Detroit was not party to that lawsuit. It had no involvement whatsoever in the recent decision to settle the matter prior to trial. Thus, it would not be appropriate to comment on the decisions made by the parties involved,” the archdiocese stated on Wednesday.
The archdiocese, however, hinted the settlement would have no bearing on Perrone’s church case, saying the panel of lawyers who recommended the $125,000 figure rendered no verdict.
“As in all civil court cases … (Perrone’s lawsuit) was presented to a panel of attorneys in July for what is called case evaluation. The purpose of that case evaluation process was to induce a monetary settlement between the parties. It was not a finding of fault,” the archdiocese stated.
According to AOD spokesman Ned McGrath, Perrone’s case is no longer in the hands of the Detroit Archdiocese, which is waiting for direction from the Vatican.
“Until that canonical proceeding is fully resolved, Fr. Perrone is presumed innocent while restricted from all public ministry,” the archdiocese stated on its website Wednesday. “Such cases come under the jurisdiction of the Vatican. The Detroit archdiocese continues its call for prayers for all those involved in this matter.”
Perrone and his lawyers fear the case could drag out for years and force Perrone into mandatory retirement when he turns 75 in three years.
“There is no reasonable explanation as to why Fr. Perrone was not put back in his parish or at a minimum given a fair Canonical trial by now,” said Perrone’s lawyer, Christopher Kolomjec. “He has been removed for one year and two months. It’s not fair. It’s not just. And it’s certainly not moral.”
Kolomjec said he can’t understand why the archdiocese is “insisting” on a church law trial given that the whole case against Perrone was based on the report of a detective who has now agreed to pay $125,000 “for defaming him.” He argues that the detective couldn’t find anyone to corroborate the man’s molestation claims against Perrone, and stressed that “more than 70 altar boys have come forward in support of Father Perrone.”
“The very witnesses identified by the accuser that were supposed to collaborate his claim denied any wrongdoing by Fr. Perrone,” Kolomjec said. “A man was wrongly accused. And just because that man is a Catholic priest does not mean he is not innocent or hasn’t been railroaded.”
Detective ‘didn’t do anything wrong’
One month after he was suspended, Perrone sued Macomb County Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Nancy LePage, whose sodomy claim was cited in the official church document that was used to remove him.
According to LePage’s reports, a 54-year-old man had alleged Perrone started grooming him when he was 13 while he was an altar boy at St. Peter Catholic Church in Mount Clemens.
The man alleged that Perrone had groped him during swim parties, served minors wine, had boys stay overnight in the rectory and took him and another boy on a private camping trip, police and church records reviewed by the Free Press say. These allegations surfaced in 2018, after the man’s wife called an archdiocese hotline and said her husband had been abused by his priest 40 years earlier.
An investigation followed, though over time the accuser, who has mental health issues, would change his story multiple times. He started out saying he was raped, but for reasons unknown, he took back that claim and has said there was groping and fondling only.
Macomb County chief attorney John Schapka, who represented LePage in the defamation suit, said there “was no wrongdoing” by LePage.
“She did not do anything wrong,” Schapka said. “There was a victim who made representations to her. And just like every other police investigation, where they write down what they’re told — that’s it.That’s what happened here. And the victim later changed his mind, for whatever reason.”
As for the sodomy claim, Schapka said: “I’m very confident that Nancy didn’t lie about this … She never admitted any wrongdoing. There is no wrongdoing.”
So why settle the case and not go to trial instead?
Schapka said the county agreed to the $125,000 settlement “to avoid the possibility” of paying even more down the road. If Perrone won his case at trial, there could have been a hefty jury verdict to pay out, plus Perrone’s attorney fees.
“It was a tactical decision,” said Schapka, adding a check will go out to Perrone in the next few weeks.
As for whether LePage is facing any discipline for costing Macomb County taxpayers $125,000, Schapka said her job is safe.
“There are no personnel issues. There are never going to be personnel issues,” Schapka said. “She’s an outstanding and dedicated detective who specializes in child sex crimes.”
‘A long, slow wait’
Like the rest of the world, Perrone’s life has been sidelined by the pandemic.
The COVID-19 crisis shut down the courts and impacted the Vatican as the virus pounded Italy.
Meanwhile, at his home in Warren, Perrone is patiently waiting for change, or at least a sign from the church that he may soon be returned to his east side parish. He believes he has cleared his name by exposing what he calls “malice” by a detective who for reasons unclear to him, tried to frame him for a crime he says he never committed.
“She was the one who the archdiocese was relying on for a recommendation to remove me from the priesthood,” Perrone said, adding the $125,000 settlement should send a strong message to the archdiocese.
As Perrone’s lawyers have argued, the settlement was recommended by a three-person panel made up of lawyers who heard both sides of the case and unanimously agreed that Perrone deserved $125,000 compensation.
Both sides agreed to the amount.
That recommendation, Perrone said, gives the archdiocese “a perfect out to reinstate me and say, ‘This has all been a mistake. This is unfortunate. We understand what happened here.’ “
But that hasn’t happened. And there’s no telling if or when a reinstatement decision will be made.
“It’s been a long, slow wait,” Perrone said. “I’ve been ousted from my parish for 13 months, and I’m very anxious to get back.”
Contact Tresa Baldas: firstname.lastname@example.org.