Court upholds dismissal of lawsuit by Warren priest against peer

Macomb Daily [Sterling Heights MI]

January 4, 2022

By Jameson Cook

The state Court of Appeals has upheld the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit by a suspended Warren priest against another clergy member who revealed potentially false sexual-abuse claims against the plaintiff, due to the Constitutional pillar that separates church and state.

A three-judge panel unanimously ruled against Rev. Eduard Perrone in the appeal of his lawsuit against Rev. G. Michael Bugarin, a St. Clair Shores-based priest who is part of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit review panel for clergy abuse. The judges say in a Dec. 21 opinion that state courts cannot have jurisdiction over “ecclesiastical matters forbidden under the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

Perrone also alleged “false light” and “intentional infliction of emotional distress” over Bugarin saying the AOD had found allegations by Perrone’s accuser as “credible, meaning they had a semblance of truth,” judges wrote in the seven-page opinion.

“The issue of whether the defendant’s conduct was extreme and outrageous depends on how the Archdiocese evaluated (the accuser’s) claims of sexual abuse, to determine whether or not they were in fact, credible,” the ruling says. “Resolution of the claim would also require the trial court to assess the Archdiocese’s meaning of ‘credibility,’ and whether that comports with commensurate standards under the law.

“Such an inquiry by the trial would be improper under the First Amendment because it would, in effect, second guess the Archdiocese’s decisions regarding how to best communicate allegations within its clergy with its parish.”

The court cites a Michigan case, Winkler v. Marist Fathers of Detroit, 2017, and a U.S. case, Fowler v. Rhode Island from 1953, among others.

Perrone was removed in July 2019 as priest at The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church, aka Assumption Grotto Church, in Detroit after 25 years there over allegations he molested an altar boy 40 years earlier. The case was reviewed by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, which early last year “decided not to proceed” with the case, the AOD said last April. No criminal charges were filed.

Perrone has asked to be returned to the pulpit. The AOD is reviewing his conduct “through the means available under the Code of Canon Law. As a result, a canonical disciplinary process has begun” and has not yet concluded, according to the AOD.

It is unclear whether the review is related to the trial court issuance of a contempt of court finding against Perrone for using protected, confidential information gained in one lawsuit for use in a second lawsuit. The appeals court upheld that finding but reversed a $500 fine against Perrone.

He also sued Nancy LaPage, a Macomb County Sheriff’s detective and St. Joan of Arc parishioner who investigated the allegations. Macomb County agreed to pay Perrone $125,000 in a mediated settlement over the potentially false claim against Perrone.

Perrone’s removal prompted protests from Assumption Grotto parishioners, who picketed at Bugarin’s church, St. Joan of Arc in St. Clair Shores. The parishioners also sued the AOD.

The case stemmed from Perrone’s accuser alleging in 2019 that while serving at St. Peter Parish in Mount Clemens, Perrone inappropriately engaged in grabbing and groping at swim parties between 1978 and 1981 at the Perrone family’s “lake house” that, according to Perrone’s lawsuit, were wrongly elevated to sexual molestation accusations. Also in 2019, the accuser denied any inappropriate touching or sexual assault in an interview with a Michigan State Police detective, Perrone’s lawsuit said.

Jameson Cook, Multimedia Journalist