Jury: Green Bay Diocese Guilty of Fraud in Child Sex Abuse

By Peter Isely
SNAP Midwest
May 21, 2012

It took a jury today in Appleton, Wisconsin barely four hours to conclude in a landmark decision that the bishops and senior managers of the diocese of Green Bay had committed fraud in concealing and transferring serial child sex predator, Fr. John Patrick Feeney. What is so significant about this decision is that the jury reached its conclusion even though the judge had severely limited the amount of evidence, including hundreds of pages of internal church files, that they could examine. If the jury had seen the totality of Feeney’s file they would likely have reached their decision in even less time.

This is the first trial against a diocese for sexually abusive clerics in state history. A pair of controversial state supreme court decisions in the mid 1990’s fully immunized the church from any and all corporate liability for priest child molesters based on a controversial interpretation of the first amendment. It is a testament, therefore, to the courage and persistence of Todd and Troy Merryfield and their families who have doggedly pursued justice through a much more daunting path of filing their claim under the state’s fraud statutes.

How today’s decision is going to impact other dioceses in the state—including the 570 cases filed in federal bankruptcy court in Milwaukee, many of those cases for fraud—is yet to be seen. But this much the jury in Appleton has made clear today: Society cannot afford—children cannot afford–to have an institution, no matter how laudatory its other accomplishments–that is accountable to no one.

Fortunately, for the Merryfields, the trail of paper which documented the decades of deceit by several Green Bay bishops was obtained through a criminal case that led to Feeney’s imprisonment in 2004. Now the question is: who is going to hold the diocese accountable for the at least 51 other admitted clergy child sex offenders now that most of their files appear to have been destroyed by former Bishop David Zubick in 2007, in the wake of the first fraud filings in Wisconsin– before he left to become bishop of Pittsburgh?

SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 23 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Visit us at and








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