Lawsuit to proceed despite death of priest accused of sexual assault

·3 min read
Father Paul Breau was chaplain at the University of Moncton for almost a decade.  (CBC - image credit)
Father Paul Breau was chaplain at the University of Moncton for almost a decade. (CBC - image credit)

The death of a former Roman Catholic priest accused of sexually assaulting boys won't affect a lawsuit against him and the church.

Moncton lawyer Brian Murphy said the case against Father Paul Breau will go ahead because it also names the Catholic Archdiocese of Moncton.

"We consider that the diocese is responsible for the actions of the various priests who have been sued … so it really doesn't make much difference at all in the case going forward," he said when reached by phone Thursday.

Breau, the former chaplain at the University of Moncton, died in June at the age of 89, reported Radio-Canada. He was buried in Notre-Dame-du-Calvaire cemetery in Dieppe.

He was one of three former priests named in a series of lawsuits by roughly 30 plaintiffs.

Murphy represents nine of those plaintiffs — all men who say they were sexually assaulted by the priests in the 1970s and '80s.

Moncton-based lawyer Brian Murphy is representing nine plaintiffs in a number of lawsuits against the Catholic Archdiocese of Moncton and three former priests.
Moncton-based lawyer Brian Murphy is representing nine plaintiffs in a number of lawsuits against the Catholic Archdiocese of Moncton and three former priests. (Forté Law Droit)

"They were all vulnerable young men in parishes, where at that time, the priest was a figure of respect and authority, but unfortunately, some people within the Catholic Church in that era took advantage of these youths. It's unfortunate, but it's a fact," said Murphy.

He said the lawsuit has been "provisionally settled." Lawyers for the archdiocese talked to all of the plaintiffs to determine "what value their claims might have."

The hold-up, explained Murphy, is that the archdiocese had to sue its insurance provider to get them to pay.

Murphy said the proceedings should not be affected by the death of Breau, who also faced criminal charges at one time.

In 2017, a sexual assault charge was withdrawn against the then-86-year-old after he was found to be mentally incompetent for a trial.

The incidents were alleged to have taken place in 1985 and 1986 in Shediac, when Breau was priest at the St. Joseph parish.

Breau was the chaplain at the University of Moncton until October 2016, when allegations first surfaced against him.

Some of the civil suits filed over the last few years also named Camille Leger and Yvon Arsenault.

Leger was a priest in the Sainte-Thérèse-d'Avila Parish in Cap-Pelé between 1957 and 1980. He died in 1990 without ever being accused or convicted of any crimes.

Arsenault was sentenced in 2017 to four years in prison after pleading guilty to nine counts of molesting boys, dating back to the 1970s.

Yvon Arsenault, in a picture from February 2017, before he was incarcerated for molesting 9 boys between 1971 and 1980, while serving as a catholic priest.
Yvon Arsenault, in a picture from February 2017, before he was incarcerated for molesting 9 boys between 1971 and 1980, while serving as a catholic priest.(CBC)

The latest claim names the Catholic Archdiocese of Moncton and the current Archbishop, Mgr Valéry Vienneau.

The complainant in that case — a man from Shediac — alleges that Breau sexually assaulted him on several occasions when he was around 13 or 14 years old.

Radio-Canada reported that Breau's death last June had gone completely under the radar, with relatives opting not to publish an obituary at the time.

Even the lawyer who filed the most recent lawsuit on March 26 wasn't aware that Breau had died.

According to documents obtained by Radio-Canada, Breau had no property or material assets, but had financial assets totalling $740,454.

The plaintiff's lawyers are not surprised by the size of Breau's estate.

"Most people take it for granted that priests are usually poor. But many of them have sizable assets when they die because they didn't pay rent and didn't have children to send to college," said John McKiggan, who filed last month's lawsuit.

"Usually they have income and not a lot of expenses," said Murphy. "And don't forget that Father Breau passed away at an old age. I'm not at all surprised that he had a lot of money."