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Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Being a bishop means never having to say you’re sorry

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 03, 2022

Over at Crisis, Janet Smith relates the sad, scandalous story of how the Archdiocese of Detroit has treated Father Eduard Perrone. A beloved priest, whose 25 years of ministry at Assumption Grotto had made the parish a magnet for tradition-minded Catholics, he was suspended from ministry in 2019 because of a sex-abuse charge.

All the available evidence indicates that Father Perrone was innocent of the charge. Or to put it differently, there is no credible evidence against him. Father Perrone, who of course denied the accusations, voluntarily took and passed a lie-detector test—twice. Local prosecutors quickly dropped a criminal investigation, recognizing that the testimony from a single accuser was incoherent, and contradicted by other witnesses.

Determined to clear his name, Father Perrone filed a defamation suit against a police detective who had pressed the case against him, charging that she had falsified reports. He won a six-figure settlement.

Nevertheless the Detroit archdiocese left the falsely accused priest in the lurch: still suspended from ministry, still living under a cloud of suspicion. When he filed a canonical lawsuit in a bid to end the impasse, Archbishop Allen Vigneron ordered him under obedience to withdraw that suit and to apologize. Against the advice of many supporters, Father Perrone did exactly that. He apologized (for what, I am not sure) in order to be allowed to resume the priestly ministry to which he has committed his life.

Janet Smith assesses the final result:

So, who won this “battle”—a battle that should never have taken place? The bishop/father or the priest/son? Well, the priest cannot say Mass at his former parish, must ask for permission to say Mass at other parishes, and was made to issue a groveling pseudo apology.

The gross injustice against this priest inevitably leads his admirers to think that Father Perrone was singled out for harsh treatment because of his traditionalist views. Is there any other plausible explanation?

Yet while this case is egregious, it is not by any means unique, nor are traditionalists the only clerics to suffer unjust treatment. We may never know how many priests have been falsely accused, suspended, and left by indifferent diocesan officials to fend for themselves. And if they do dare to challenge the false accusations, as Father Perrone did, the (arch)diocese treats them as rebels.

I cannot forget the phone call I received from a sobbing priest who wanted me to help him understand why he had been disciplined. Disabled by an accident that had seriously damaged his mental faculties, he was living quietly with his sister, rarely leaving the house. Then one day an aggressive young priest from the chancery knocked on the door, sternly informing him that he had been suspended because of an alleged offense two decades earlier. The poor priest did not remember the incident (possibly because it did not occur), and in his current diminished state he could not understand the accusation. He died not long thereafter—still under suspension, still thoroughly confused. For all I know he might have committed some offense in the past, but the treatment he received at the hands of his ecclesiastical superiors was heartless.

In her comment on the Perrone case, Janet Smith reminds readers that a bishop should be a father to his priests and his people. A loving father would not allow his sons to languish indefinitely in clerical limbo, their reputations in tatters, on the basis of unproven accusations.

Have you heard of a case in which, after an accused priest has been cleared of abuse charges, he has received an apology from the bishop who suspended him, and a ringing endorsement of his character? I haven’t. Typically there is an unsigned release from the diocese saying that Father X has been cleared because there was not enough evidence to support the charge (and good luck, Father X, coping with lingering suspicions). In the Perrone case, the accused priest has been forced to apologize for causing inconvenience to the archdiocese by protecting his reputation.

Oddly enough, the same sort of cavalier mistreatment often awaits parishioners who bring accurate charges of clerical abuse. Just as I am waiting to hear of a bishop who apologizes to an unjustly suspended priest, I am also waiting to hear of a bishop who apologizes for dismissing parishioners’ complaints.

During the “Long Lent” of 2002, when the sex-abuse scandal burst into the headlines, we learned about case after case in which a bishop not only dismissed the complaints of victims’ families, but charged the people bringing the complaints with a lack of charity—even though the bishops knew that the complaints were accurate. Is there a more precise example of bearing false witness? Many bishops have subsequently issued apologies for the abuse. But have they apologized to the people they defamed?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Mar. 07, 2022 1:03 AM ET USA

    It would be an interesting exercise to examine the education and associations of harmful bishops. What seminaries did they attend? Who were their professors? Whose influence or mentorship did they enjoy earlier in their careers? We might find some interesting commonalities.

  • Posted by: johnhinshaw8419405 - Mar. 04, 2022 7:02 PM ET USA

    And the Bishop who oversaw all of this in Detroit (Vigneron) is on track to be the next President of the USCCB. It's a good thing we have Jesus, because the rest of Church leadership is garbage.

  • Posted by: feedback - Mar. 04, 2022 1:34 PM ET USA

    The Dallas Charter, which was concocted in large measure by McCarrick, gave unfaithful bishops extra weapons against faithful priests. All in the noble name of "protecting the children."