Brothers Drop Punitive Damages against Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
By Jim Collar
May 23, 2012
|Troy Merryfield, left, embraces his mother Sharon Merryfield as his brother Todd, right, looks on after the jury found the Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay responsible for concealing Rev. John Feeney's history of child molestation Monday, May 21, 2012, at the Outagamie County Justice Center in Appleton, Wisconsin. Feeney was convicted in 2004 of child sexual assault of Troy and Todd Merryfield in 1978 âˆ” after the criminal trial the brothers said they learned the priest had a history of similar assaults in the 1960s and 1970s that the diocese knew about and hid from parishioners at St. Nicholas church in Freedom, which the Merryfields attended. |
APPLETON — Two brothers who were sexually assaulted at the hands of a priest in 1978 said their civil lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay wasn't about money, but rather to bring long-held secrets to light.
Todd and Troy Merryfield spoke to reporters today at the conclusion of their Outagamie County civil fraud lawsuit against the diocese. The jury reconvened to consider punitive damages. The Merryfields, however, decided to drop that claim.
Punitive damages are awards handed down in civil cases as punishment for wrongdoing.
The case was never about the money, the Merryfields said.
"We're going to claim the high road," Todd Merryfield said.
The Merryfields were molested by former priest John Feeney. In their lawsuit, they claimed the diocese knew of prior instances of sexual assault involving Feeney and fraudulently misrepresented his risk to children when assigning him as pastor at Freedom's St. Nicholas Church.
Jurors on Monday found in the Merryfields favor and awarded them $700,000.
Today, the brothers distributed a packet of documents that the jury wasn't given to consider.
One was a letter from Msgr. Roy Klister to the Merryfields parents dated Jan. 23, 1979. It said that "not publicizing the incident and your understanding of the problem was the correct and just approach."
Troy Merryfield referenced a 1983 letter sent to Feeney from Bishop Aloysius Wycislo regarding Feeney's release from the diocese. Wycislo said, "I am capable of forgetting about all this and writing a good letter of recommendation for you to a new bishop."
"Really?" Troy Merryfield said after reading the passage. "Really? Is that really the Christian way?"
Deacon Tim Reilly in a Monday press statement expressed respect for the jury's deliberation and decision, though said he disagreed with its conclusions.
"If the documents and depositions indicated that there was a legitimate basis for the allegation of fraud against Bishop Wycislo and the Diocese, we would not have undertaken the expense and time to so vigorously defend Bishop Wycislo and the Diocese," he said.
Feeney was sentenced to prison in 2004 for the sexual assaults of the Merryfields and has since been released.
The Merryfields on Wednesday urged the diocese to become transparent and make public the details of sexual abuse involving its priests.
"Atone for your sins," Troy Merryfield said.
Todd Merryfield said he doesn't expect the church open that piece of its past.
"They're more interested in protecting the institution than the children and that's a pretty sad, sad statement on an operating philosophy," he said. "I'd be embarrassed to operate that way."