The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests: Letter to Justice Prosser Re: Feeney Case

May 15, 2008

To: Justice David Prosser, Wisconsin Supreme Court

From: Peter Isely, Midwest Director of SNAP, The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

Re: Fr. John Patrick Feeney

Justice Prosser:

It is with considerable concern that we are taking the unusual step of attempting to communicate directly with you to urge you to break your silence regarding your involvement as Outagamie County District Attorney with the diocese of Green Bay in the case of the now imprisoned pedophile priest, John Patrick Feeney.

We are a self-help organization of survivors of childhood rape and sexual assault by clergy, with over 8,000 members in 63 chapters across the United States, including, sadly, many victims from the state of Wisconsin who are from the Green Bay diocese. That diocese, in 2004, publically acknowledged that at least 51 of their clergy were known by church officials to have sexually assaulted children over the past several decades.

Perhaps the most infamous of these criminal clergy is Fr. Feeney, who raped, assaulted and terrorized countless children and minors for over 30 years in assignments in at least three states. According to hundreds of pages of church records, recently obtained in Green Bay through civil discovery, Fr. Feeney was, astoundingly, reported to church officials for sexual misconduct in virtually every one of his over 20 parish assignments in the diocese before he was secretly transferred to dioceses in California and Nevada, where he further assaulted more children.

Child sex abuse is arguably the most unreported crime in our society. Part of the reason why victims do not report is that, well into adulthood, they carry the shame and stigma of these terrible acts, while perpetrators, like Fr. Feeney, experience little if any guilt or remorse. When a victim does come forward to criminal authorities it is always a difficult choice and it is always an act of enormous courage.

What victims seek, of course, is justice.

The Green Bay church documents are enormously troubling and deeply disturbing to us, who daily suffer the affliction of body and spirit which is the legacy of these crimes. As one of Wisconsin's' most respected legislators and accomplished jurists we find it difficult to believe that someone of your stature could have aided church officials—as they claim you did--in helping them keep a career pedophile from justice.

Most alarming to us is a letter dated December 18, 1978 from the then Green Bay Bishop Aloysius Wycislo written to the chair of the diocesan priest personal board, Fr. Merkatoris. Wycslo writes that, apparently on your own initiative, you met with him to share criminal evidence you were gathering against Fr. Feeney, evidence you told Wycislo was sufficient to prosecute Feeney. But, "as is usual in such cases and out of respect for the position of the church," writes Wycislo "and in order to prevent unnecessary scandal," you allegedly counseled the bishop to transfer Feeney, preferably out of the state of Wisconsin. You told the bishop so he writes that you wanted Feeney's crimes to be kept "out of the courts and the public eye." You concluded—again according to the bishop--that there is too much "evidence against" Feeney "for the courts to hide any longer." If the bishop is to be taken at his word, the courts and, presumably, your office, were collecting criminal evidence against Feeney in order to present it to the bishop so they could conceal it from the public. Your actions, to our great sadness, mirror the way the bishops of the United States routinely dealt with priest sex offenders, actions which led Pope Benedict in his recent visit to the United States to express his great sorrow to victims and declare that American bishops had handled abusive priests "very badly." He urged reform, including legal reform if necessary, and insisted that every single victim be provided support, comfort and, most importantly, justice.

In February of this year, in a previous release of documents which raised questions about your involvement in the Feeney case, we were hopeful that you would publically explain to the many victims of Fr. Feeney, their families and the public why you did not pursue his prosecution. You withheld comment, according to your spokesperson, because of two pending clergy abuse cases before the court. Since then, you recused yourself from both cases, effectively removing that obstacle.

Given how the Green Bay diocese is characterizing your motives in how you handled the criminal evidence against Feeney, we feel it is necessary and appropriate for you to finally end your silence. Help us to understand the decisions you made and why. Restore our shaken confidence in you and in our system of justice which repeatedly seems to favor abusive clergy and complicit bishops over innocent child victims and their families.

Peter Isely
SNAP Midwest Director (Milwaukee)

Judith Schauer
SNAP Green Bay Co-Director


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.