Former Catholic Priest John Patrick Feeney Released after Serving 8 Years for Sexually Assaulting Children

By Jim Collar
November 11, 2011

A former Roman Catholic priest convicted of four counts of sexually assaulting children has been released from prison after serving fewer than eight years of a 15-year sentence.

John Patrick Feeney's legal issues, however, will continue to surface in Outagamie County court well into 2012.

Feeney, 84, reached his mandatory prison release date on Nov. 1 and is living in an Appleton halfway house, according to the state Department of Corrections. He was sentenced on April 30, 2004.

Peter Isely, Midwest director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Feeney won't be able to again harm children because he's so well-known to the public and will be under Department of Corrections supervision.

Feeney's widely publicized 2004 convictions in Outagamie County stemmed from the assaults of brothers Troy and Todd Merryfield when Feeney was parish priest at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Freedom in 1978.

A civil lawsuit filed in 2008 by the brothers against the Diocese of Green Bay following Feeney's convictions remains unresolved. John Peterson, an attorney for the Merryfields, said the lawsuit has been difficult for the men.

"They think it's necessary and the right thing for them to do, but it is a burden on their recovery from this," he said.

The Merryfields were 12 and 14 at the time of the assaults.

Isely said the Merryfields represent just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the lives damaged by Feeney. The damage extends to many communities and likely to many people who've remained silent about what happened to them.

"That impact is going to last forever," Isely said.

During Feeney's criminal prosecution, another 10 men came forward and claimed they were abused when they were minors.

Prosecutors were able to file charges related to the assaults of the Merryfields despite the passage of time because Feeney moved from Wisconsin in 1983. The clock on Wisconsin's six-year statute of limitations stops when those who commit crimes leave the state.

The Merryfields contend in their civil lawsuit that the diocese failed to inform St. Nicholas Catholic Church parishioners of Feeney's past, including his church-ordered sexual abuse counseling.

The Post-Crescent reported in 2002 that Feeney was moved by church authorities 14 times in 14 years during his time in the Green Bay diocese.

Outagamie County Judge Nancy Krueger scheduled two weeks for a jury trial in the civil case set to begin May 14.

Peterson said civil cases by nature are more complicated and time-consuming than criminal prosecutions. Attorneys remain in the process of assembling evidence, including the collection of deposition testimony, he said. Peterson expects the case will include mediation efforts during the winter months.

Feeney, who was defrocked in 2005 and was removed from priestly duties in 1986, will spend the remainder of his sentence on parole supervision.

He's required to comply with the state's Sex Offender Registry for the rest of his life.

Feeney's supervision is scheduled to end April 30, 2019.


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