Jury Selected in Green Bay Roman Catholic Diocese Trial
By Jim Collar
May 15, 2012
APPLETON — Attorneys selected a jury Monday to determine whether Green Bay's Roman Catholic diocese fraudulently misrepresented the risk of a priest who went on to molest two boys in 1978.
Brothers Troy and Todd Merryfield are suing the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay on allegations it knew about sexual abuse committed by John Feeney before 1978 and fraudulently failed to inform Freedom's St. Nicholas Catholic Church of the dangers he posed to children.
Feeney was convicted in 2003 in Outagamie County of four counts of sexually assaulting the Merryfields, who were 12 and 14 at the time of the abuse. The Merryfields say they learned only after the criminal case that Feeney had sexually assaulted others.
Several potential jurors were released from duty Monday after proclaiming they'd be unable to remain impartial due to their Catholic faith.
One man told attorneys that if it came to conflicting testimony, "I would give the priest the benefit of the doubt."
He was dismissed and replaced by a woman who quickly said, "I don't think I could be impartial."
She, too, was taken off of the panel.
Fifteen jurors — three of whom will serve as alternates —were sworn in around 2:45 p.m., about six hours after jury selection began. The eight men and seven women were instructed not to read or watch media reports and adjourned for the afternoon.
The Merryfields are seeking unspecified compensation from the diocese. The men, formerly of Freedom, were parishioners of St. Nicholas.
Troy Merryfield is now a resident of Suffolk, Va. Todd Merryfield lives in Port Washington.
Feeney served nearly eight years in prison before his 2011 release.
Exhibits filed with the civil complaint included a 1974 letter from a mental health professional to Feeney regarding their sessions, which discussed his sexual impulses.
Feeney made reference to the doctor's recommendations in a 1974 letter to Green Bay's bishop in which he wrote, "I was sorry to learn that you received more complaints about me," documents show. The letter didn't explicitly outline the nature of those complaints.
The diocese denies the allegations made by the Merryfields.
Catholic faith in itself hasn't disqualified potential jurors from serving on the case. John Peterson, an attorney for the Merryfields, questioned a woman today who has two children who attend Catholic schools. The Catholic Church is run by humans, the woman said, in explaining that her place in the church wouldn't color her judgment.
"I think I could be impartial," she said.
The trial, assigned to Judge Nancy Krueger, is expected to take two weeks. Opening statements will begin this morning.