Charge of Sexual Abuse Linked to Stamford Church Parishioner

By Neil Vigdor
Greenwich Time [Stamford CT]
May 6, 2003

A member of St. Leo's Church in Stamford with ties to the parish's youth group faces a fourth-degree sexual assault charge after police said he groped a 17-year-old boy during a church outing in Greenwich.

Frank J. Perna, 67, of 33 Edgewood Ave., Stamford, was arrested Sunday afternoon by Greenwich police, who declined to comment on the case other than to say that the parishioner sexually groped the teen.

Perna was eating dinner with parishioners at a local restaurant when the alleged incident occurred. He is the husband of the church's former youth group leader, a Diocese of Bridgeport spokesman confirmed.

"When the parish was made aware of the allegation in January 2003, it informed the police as well as the Connecticut Department of Children and Families, as required by state law and the Sexual Misconduct Policy of the Diocese of Bridgeport," diocese spokesman Joseph McAleer wrote in a statement yesterday. "The parish has cooperated fully with both investigations."

DCF spokesman Gary Kleeblatt declined comment about the case yesterday, citing his agency's privacy policy. However, he complimented church leaders for their proactive role in notifying his agency and law enforcement officers of new allegations of sexual misconduct.

"The cooperation we have received from the dioceses across Connecticut has been very good," Kleeblatt said, adding, "We investigate any allegation that meets the statutory criteria for abuse or neglect."

The diocese also announced that it barred Perna, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, from participating in activities, other than worship, at the Roxbury Road parish when the allegations came to light.

"Until the investigation is complete, Mr. Perna will not be allowed to participate in church-related activities as an employee or volunteer, either at Saint Leo Parish or at any other parish in Fairfield County," McAleer said.

Unsure of the length of time that passed between the alleged incident and the accusations coming to light, McAleer emphasized that Perna's case is much different from those of eight priests who resigned from the Roman Catholic diocese last year amid suspicion of sexual misconduct.

"Frank J. Perna is a member of Saint Leo Parish in Stamford," McAleer said. "He is not an employee of the parish, but has participated in parish activities. His wife, Anne, was employed as leader of the parish youth group and retired in June 2002."

Perna, whose telephone number is unlisted, was released on $500 bond and scheduled to appear May 12 in state Superior Court in Stamford.


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