Psychologist Testifies on Diocese's Behalf
By Jim Collar
May 18, 2012
A psychologist hired by the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay said two brothers who were sexually assaulted by a priest in 1978 suffered only minor trauma as a result.
Attorneys for the church began calling their witnesses Thursday in the Outagamie County civil lawsuit alleging fraud against the diocese. Brothers Todd and Troy Merryfield say the diocese knew former priest John Feeney sexually assaulted others before 1978 and fraudulently misrepresented his safety when assigning him to Freedom’s St. Nicholas Church.
In their 2008 civil lawsuit, the Merryfields cite “profound psychological damage” as a result of the assaults.
Dr. Timothy Lynch, a Milwaukee psychologist, disagreed the abuse caused the brothers significant harm and spent more than two hours on the witness stand detailing his evaluations and findings.
Lynch also questioned the severity of the assaults, noting Feeney didn’t have direct contact with the boys’ genitals.
Troy Merryfield had “been exposed to a mildly traumatic incident in 1978,” he testified.
Lynch said the lack of treatment after the assault and no record of emotional concerns for 20 years supports his findings. Though Merryfield’s history after 1998 shows depression, Lynch said it’s unlikely connected to Feeney.
He said Todd Merryfield showed no evidence of distress after the assault and performed well academically.
During a session with Lynch, Todd Merryfield “cited very few symptoms, if any really,” the psychologist testified.
“He buried it,” Lynch said, recalling their conversation. “It’s history. It’s in the past. He chooses to go on with his life.”
Attorneys for the Merryfields questioned Lynch’s expertise and credibility.
Jeffrey Anderson, attorney for Todd Merryfield, asked Lynch about his time as a seminarian before studying psychology, his specific expertise in diagnosing and treating adult victims of childhood sexual assault and what he stands to earn based on his participation in the case.
Lynch acknowledged he’s a devout Catholic and said he would bill the diocese in excess of $22,000 for time he spent on the case before his testimony Thursday.
Lynch said he routinely treats patients who have been sexually assaulted, but has no specific expertise or credentials regarding sexual abuse.
Feeney was sentenced to prison in 2004 for the sexual assaults of the brothers. He’s since been released.
The Merryfields are seeking unspecified compensation from the diocese, which denies the allegations.
The trial is expected to conclude next week.
— Jim Collar: 920-993-1000, ext. 216, or email@example.com