Court Tosses Judgment in Priest Groping Case
By Mike Heuer
Courthouse News Service
May 29, 2015
The Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., need not pay a $500,000 judgment to the man who claims that a priest molested him when he was 13 in 1984, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled.
Because Nevada's Clark County District Court does not have jurisdiction over the diocese, the justices unanimously reversed its $500,000 award to an unidentified man.
"The diocese did not have sufficient contacts with Nevada," Justice Michael Cherry wrote for the court Thursday.
John P. Feeney, the former priest at the center of the litigation, had originally been assigned to the diocese in Wisconsin, and then moved on to Los Angeles before winding up in Las Vegas.
In his complaint, John Doe said the diocese was aware Feeney molested children in Wisconsin but "negligently retained and supervised Feeney and failed to warn others that Feeney was a danger to children," Cherry wrote.
Although the Diocese of Reno-Las Vegas was in charge of Feeney's daily activities, the district court ruled it had jurisdiction over the Diocese of Green Bay for incardinating Feeney who "had made a promise of obedience to the Diocese of Green Bay," Cherry wrote.
The Nevada Supreme Court disagreed.
"Feeney was not the diocese's agent during his ministry in Las Vegas," Cherry wrote. "His promise of obedience to the Diocese of Green Bay ... is not sufficient to establish an agency or employment relationship."
Feeney was accused of sexually abusing several boys and girls during his 30-year career as a priest and was transferred among 18 parishes, according to the website BishopAccountability.org.
The site says Feeney was removed from the ministry in 1986 after he was accused of smuggling drug paraphernalia and women's underwear into a Nevada prison in exchange for sex with prisoners.
In 2004, he was convicted of sexually assaulting two young Wisconsin boys in 1978 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, according to the website.