"I Felt Abandoned': Catholic Priests Turn to Defamation Lawsuits to Fight Sex Abuse Claims
By Deena Yellin
Record via NorthJersey.com
February 9, 2021
As clergy abuse lawsuits proliferate across the U.S., a growing number of priests who say they were falsely accused are pushing back – by suing their accusers, investigators and even church officials.
The list includes the Rev. Roy Herberger of the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. Last year, he filed a defamation case against a 42-year-old man who said the priest had assaulted him as a boy.
The diocese cleared Herberger after a six-month investigation, but the experience was devastating, he said.
Father Eduard Perrone, a popular Catholic priest for The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Detroit was suspended for alleged child sex abuse. He won a $125,000 settlement in a defamation lawsuit against a local sheriff's investigator.
"I felt abandoned, embarrassed and betrayed," Herberger said in an e-mail. "It was difficult for me to leave the shelter of my apartment lest I be seen by others who might recognize me and tag me as 'one of them.'"
Catholic leaders from the Vatican to America have acknowledged a long history of abuse by some clerics, too often excused or even covered up by top officials.
But as the Church vows to be more transparent, some innocent priests have been swept up in the accusations as well, defense attorneys say. New laws in New Jersey and elsewhere lifting the statue of limitations on decades-old claims have made it more difficult for the wrongly accused to defend their reputations, they say.
"In my view, it's unconstitutional to put people under a microscope" after so many years have passed, said James Porfido, a criminal defense attorney in Morristown. "It shifts the burden of proof to the defense."