DETROIT (AP) — A conservative Detroit priest renowned for his orchestral Masses and traditional Latin services has been removed from public ministry after the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit reviewed what it described as a "credible allegation" that he had abused a child decades ago.
The announcement, made during services Sunday at the Rev. Eduard Perrone's church, shocked parishioners and came a month after The Associated Press began asking the pastor himself, the archdiocese and law enforcement authorities about a former altar boy's allegations that Perrone groped him.
Archdiocese officials told Perrone's congregation at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish during services Sunday that members of the local archdiocese review board found a "semblance of truth" to the accusations, but that they are maintaining a presumption of innocence.
Parishioners reacted with surprise, and one woman walked out of the service to gather herself outside. After Mass, a number of people stopped at the back of the church to ask questions of two archdiocesan officials and pick up a written statement about Perrone.
The pastor — who just celebrated his 25th anniversary at the church locals call Assumption Grotto — is prohibited from representing himself as a priest or wearing clerical attire while the Vatican reviews the allegations, the archdiocese said in the written statement.
The statement also said the archdiocese had reported the allegation to local law enforcement and the Michigan attorney general's office. The attorney general's office declined to comment last month, but it has an open investigation into clergy abuse in the Catholic Church in Michigan and charged five men who were priests with 21 counts of sexual misconduct in May.
The Detroit Archdiocese on Sunday added Perrone's name to its list of dozens of credibly accused priests, many deceased. More than 140 religious orders and Roman Catholic dioceses have released similar lists. Most of those lists were either released or significantly updated since a Pennsylvania grand jury last summer detailed hundreds of cases of alleged abuse.
Perrone, who co-founded a nonprofit group called Opus Bono Sacerdotii in 2002 to support priests facing allegations of abuse or other problems, did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday. At the rectory where he lived, a woman who answered the door said there was "no way" to reach Perrone and asked a reporter to pray for the priest.
Last month, Perrone denied any wrongdoing when the AP asked him about the allegations that, years ago, he would invite altar boys to his mother's lake house where he would wrestle with them in the water for hours. At times, the wrestling turned to inappropriate grabbing and groping, said a former altar boy who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to protect his privacy.
Perrone said it was the first he heard of any allegations against him.
"Never inappropriate touching," he said. "I never ever would have done such a thing."
He said other adults were always in attendance when they gathered at the lake house and everyone was "fully clothed."
Perrone also denied allegations from two individuals that he served wine to minors, but then went on to describe offering wine to a child.
"I mean I may have had wine in their presence," he said, "but I've never given them a drink. In fact one time I remember being with one of our altar boys and his dad in the rectory and I said, 'Do you want him to have a little bit of this glass of wine?' that we were drinking and it wasn't the dad, it was the kid that said, 'No, I don't want any of that.' Never drinking wine."
Three other former altar boys interviewed by AP said they never experienced or even heard of sexual abuse by Perrone, though one said Perrone struck his head with a book for misbehaving and another said that as a child he was afraid the priest would hit him. They also spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their privacy.
A classically trained musician, Perrone conducted the parish choir and area musicians in orchestral Masses. His church, founded in 1830, runs a homeschooling program and includes a cemetery and shrine. Perrone, 70, has sternly presided over his church, an imposing stone edifice encircled by abandoned lots in downtown Detroit.
An archconservative who has criticized liberal values and homosexuality within the Catholic church, Perrone preached strict sermons to his 600 or so congregants on Sundays, often scolding them for not being true believers and for being ungrateful and impure.
In a recent parish newsletter, Perrone wrote about the impact of sexual abuse and other misconduct within the church.
"The real shame is not the publicity of horrid, secret sins but the venting of lewd passion, the foul degradation of the flesh, the mortal sins committed," he wrote. "Where did holiness go?"