Jury finds diocese liable for fraud

By | May 23, 2012


On May 23, Outagamie County Circuit Court Judge Nancy Krueger dismissed all claims for punitive damages against the diocese. During a brief hearing on Wednesday morning, Judge Krueger announced that the plaintiffs had decided not to pursue their punitive damages. “Plaintiffs Todd and Troy Merryfield will not proceed with the punititive damages claim against the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay,” she stated. “Based upon that, the court is dismissing the claim for punitive damages with prejudice.”

Feeney was convicted in 2004 of sexually assaulting the brothers in 1978, when they were 12 and 14. They were members of St. Nicholas Parish in Freedom, where Feeney was pastor. They accused the diocese and the late Bishop Aloysius Wycislo of covering up the priest’s history of assaults. Feeney, who was a priest of the diocese from 1952 until he was removed from the clerical state in 2005, is currently serving a sentence of 15 years for three counts of sexual assault and one count of attempted sexual assault.

In a statement issued following the jury’s decision May 21, Deacon Timothy G. Reilly, general director of the Diocesan Curia, apologized to the Merryfield family.

“First and foremost, I want to apologize to the Merryfields on behalf of Bishop Ricken, myself, and the entire Diocese of Green Bay. We regret what occurred to Troy and Todd and apologize for the pain and suffering it has caused them and their families,” he said. “Fortunately, they were brought up in a good family with good values and they resisted the abuse perpetrated upon them and reported the incidents to their parents. Their proper reaction is the same object of the training we provide to every Catholic school student and religious education student within the Diocese of Green Bay.”

He said that while the diocese respected the decision of the jury, “we also respectfully disagree with their conclusions.”

“For those who knew Bishop Wycislo and understood his integrity, the jury’s decision is contrary to what we believe to be the judgment and actions of Bishop Wycislo and how the Diocese of Green Bay reviewed John Feeney’s actions prior to 1978,” said Deacon Reilly. “Regretfully, Bishop Wycislo is not here to defend himself as he and many other people with first-hand knowledge of the events in question are now deceased.”

Deacon Reilly said that the diocese will “assess our legal remedies of appeal to ensure that truth and justice prevail.”

According to Deacon Reilly, if the diocese does not appeal the decision, reserve funds from past investment income will be available to pay the $700,000 judgment. In no circumstance would funds donated through the Bishop’s Appeal be used to pay the judgment, he added.

In a letter to diocesan employees May 23, he said they should not expect any change to their employment situations.

In 1983, Bishop Aloysius Wycislo removed permission for Feeney to serve anywhere in the diocese and placed him on administrative leave. Feeney then moved to California. In 1986, then-Bishop (now Cardinal) Adam Maida removed Feeney’s priestly faculties, which meant he could no longer present himself as a priest or use the title “Father.” Bishop Robert Banks refused a request from Feeney for reinstatement in the early 1990s.

Feeney, now 85, was arrested in California in September 2002 and extradited to Wisconsin to stand trial, where he was subsequently convicted.

On June 3, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI, at the request of Bishop David Zubik, formally dismissed Feeney from the clerical state.

Following the dismissal of claims for punitive damages, Deacon Reilly issued the following statement:

“We reiterate our apology to the Merryfield family. We regret what occurred to Todd and Troy by then-Father John Feeney, as well as the pain and suffering it has caused them and their families. We will continue to adhere to strict diocesan policies for keeping children safe and will continue to be rigorous in their communication and enforcement.”

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