Opening Statements Heard in Trial against Green Bay Diocese

By Tony Ullrich
May 16, 2012

[with video]

Appleton - The attorneys for two brothers claim the Green Bay Catholic Diocese knew one of their priests was a problem before he molested them as children.

The Merryfield brothers, who squared off in court Tuesday with the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, are seeking $900,000 in damages.

Opening statements began Tuesday morning in Outagamie County court.

The Merryfields claim the diocese knew about former priest John Patrick Feeney's history of sexual abuse and repeatedly transferred him to other parishes without telling anyone.

Feeney, now defrocked, was convicted in 2004 of molesting the brothers while he worked at a parish in Freedom in the late 1970's.

Attorneys representing the Merryfield brothers are claiming the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of former priest John Feeney would have lifelong effects on them.

"In the midst of Troy's confession of his sins, Father Feeney reached over and groped him in his private parts area through his blue jeans while the boy was attempting to give his confession," said John Peterson, attorney representing the brothers.

But, the defense says those claims aren't true, and it argues the diocese didn't know about Feeney's actions before the lawsuit.

"There was no evidence of a known history of sexual molestation and danger to children before the Merryfield incident," said Patrick Brannen, attorney representing the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay.

The Merryfields' attorneys say both brothers still carry guilt after Feeney sexually abused them. But, they claim their evidence shows Father Feeney abused Troy more than once.

"In terms of the ability to enjoy your life, quite honestly, I think that the disruption to Troy is even worse than the disruption to Todd," Peterson said.

More than 20 witnesses are expected to testify over the course of the trial. Testimony continues Wednesday morning.


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