Family Says Treatment Was Unjust

By Colin Hickey
Morning Sentinel
July 3, 2006

Waterville -- The family of a longtime organist for the Parish of the Holy Spirit on Sunday blasted Maine's Roman Catholic Church as arrogant and unjust in dismissing their mother from her church duties for allegedly having inappropriate sexual contact with a minor about 30 years ago.

The Roman Catholic Church of Portland announced Saturday that Toni Breton, a Waterville resident, would no longer be allowed to function in a ministerial role in the church after the church validated the charges against her by a person the church has declined to identify.

In a letter to parishioners, Bishop Richard J. Malone wrote that "I find that claims of improper sexual acts with a minor have been substantiated."

The family of Breton responded with its own statement, handled through its attorney, Michaela Murphy of the Waterville law firm of Jabar, Batten, Ringer & Murphy.

"We are deeply hurt at the way our mother has been treated in this matter by the Catholic Church, a church she has served faithfully for over forty years, and a church in which she raised her children because she has always believed its doctrine and its truth," the family said in the statement.

Kenneth Rossignol, a son-in-law of Breton, echoed those sentiments when contacted Sunday.

Rossignol, acting as a spokesman for the family, said: "It is safe to say this whole thing has left her emotionally, physically and just spiritually drained. The only thing that has really kept her going is the support and prayers of those who still believe in her."

In the statement, the Breton family criticized the church for not allowing Breton to review the evidence brought against her nor be present and participate in the hearing in which the church determined her fate.

Murphy said the church has misguided priorities.

"Sadly it appears their policies are driven more by liability concerns than a concern about finding out the truth of what happened," she said.

Rossignol said his mother-in-law has received support from hundreds of people in the parish in the form of letters and other types of communication.

Sue Bernard, the spokeswoman for the Roman Catholic Church of Portland, could not be reached for comment Sunday.

The Rev. Philip A. Tracy, pastor of the Spirit of the Holy Spirit, also could not be reached.

The Breton family, in its statement, argues that Breton has never been charged with a crime yet is being treated like a criminal.

Evert Fowle, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties, said the accusations against Breton would have been beyond persecution in the law court because the alleged event exceeded the statute of limitations on such charges.

Fowle said a charge of gross sexual assault cannot be pursued if it occurred before September 1985.

Legislators did away with a statute of limitation for such a charge in 1991, he said, but that change only applied to cases six years before the new statute became law.

Maine's Roman Catholic Church made public the accusations against Breton in March. At that time, Bernard said the diocese determined the information was credible. That triggered an investigation by Deacon John Brennan, a retired Portland Police Department deputy chief.

The Breton family sharply criticized the diocese's methods.

"We have been told that the church had to treat our mother this way because of abuse committed by priests against children, abuse which was covered up for decades by the church. We have been told that this process was needed in order to restore trust between the church and its members. However, rather than treating this matter with discretion and compassion, she has been totally humiliated, and publicly shamed, while being denied the basic human right to defend herself in a fair, truth-seeking process. We had much higher expectations from our church," family members said in the statement.

Colin Hickey -- 861-9205


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