Nearly four decades after he was ordained as a priest, rumors swirled in a Beverly parish that the Rev. Philip Breton was molesting young boys at his home in New Hampshire.
It wasn’t the first time Breton, who died in 1984, had been accused. But it prompted him to retire.
New church personnel files released yesterday show Breton was mired in allegations for more than 20 years, and church officials simply shipped him from parish to parish – and mirror what lawyers representing hundreds of alleged victims of clergy abuse within the Boston Archdiocese have said for the past year: that church leaders ignored scores of misdeeds to avoid scandal.
Breton served for a time at the Assumption Parish in Tilton and also worked at the state Veterans Home in Tilton. A civil lawsuit filed against the New Hampshire diocese earlier this year alleged that Breton molested boys in the Tilton church and at a camp he shared with another priest on Lake Winnisquam.
That suit, filed by attorney Charles Douglas on behalf of 16 men, was settled in October for a combined $950,000.
The new files were made public the day before lawyers suing the Boston archdiocese are scheduled to submit estimates on how much they believe their clients should be paid in the lawsuits.
A spokeswoman for the archdiocese did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
Carmen Durso, who represents 35 people who claim they were sexually abused by Boston archdiocese priests, said lawyers for most of the approximately 450 people suing the church plan to submit summaries today of their claims and estimates on monetary damages to the archdiocese’s lawyers. The archdiocese lawyers then have until Jan. 15 to respond.
“Based upon the results of that, we are going to decide if we would go forward with mediation in attempt to settle the claims,” Durso said.
The talks come as Bishop Richard Lennon, the new interim leader of the fourth-largest U.S. archdiocese, called on both sides to suspend litigation activities so they can focus on settlement talks.
Three attorneys who represent victims said they welcomed Lennon’s call for jump-starting settlement talks but were unwilling to suspend litigation while the talks progress.
Meanwhile, more damaging documents were released yesterday describing sexual abuse allegations made against five priests.
From the time he was ordained in 1936 until his retirement in 1978, Breton was sent to 12 different parishes, was suspended twice for sick leaves and spent three months on retreat in Canada.
Church documents indicate Breton was suspended in 1950 after allegations surfaced he was sexually involved with “a boy (or boys) at Hampton Beach” in New Hampshire. The following year at St. Louis de France in Lowell, Breton was removed after the parish priest wrote that Breton’s presence was a source of scandal and that he was a “menace” to boys.
After the archdiocese received letters in 1977 from parishioners in Beverly concerning further allegations, “this whole business apparently was part of his decision to retire early in 1978,” according to another church memo written to a bishop.
In the early 1990s, a man accused Breton of molesting him twice a week over a four-month period in 1957 when he was 15. The assaults, he said, began when he was treated for a concussion at a Cambridge hospital where Breton was a chaplain.
The alleged victim would accompany Breton on his rounds visiting disabled children. After each visit, Breton would allegedly bring the boy to his apartment. “Once there, Father Breton would undress fully, leaving only his Roman collar on,” and perform sexual acts, according to a church memo.
Breton was accused of driving down the street along the alleged victim “all the while repeating over and over again that if the boy should tell anyone about this abuse, Father Breton would ‘kill him,’ ” according to the memo.
The files include the personnel records of priests besides Breton. Records for the Rev. Anthony Rebeiro contain at least a half dozen complaints from adult women, teenage girls and teenage boys.
The files also indicate that another priest, the Rev. Gerald Hickey, was accused in 1992 by a relative who claimed Hickey had abused him at the ages of 2, 5 and 13.
Hickey, a priest at St. Bridget Parish in Abington, denied the accusation. The archdiocese placed him on sick leave. He later was asked to resign his parish assignment, a move he eventually agreed to in April 1994.
In 1998, Law agreed to allow him back, citing the singularity of the charge and the lack of evidence Hickey had any attraction to children.
But it does not appear he was ever assigned a parish again. The files indicate he was working in nursing homes but according to the archdiocese directory he remains unassigned.