Diocese Ruling Spurs Inquiry Request
By Paul Srubas
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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.|
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests used a favorable ruling by an Outagamie County jury on Monday to turn up the heat on the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay.
The organization, which goes by the acronym SNAP, on Tuesday asked Brown County District Attorney David Lasee to demand the names and files of 51 priests reportedly involved in sexual abuse over the last several decades.
"We had a good meeting with the DA, he took our concern seriously, stated he is a great advocate for child protection and that he will contact the diocese and see if he can get the names of the priest offenders and their files," said John Pilmaier, director of Wisconsin's SNAP chapter.
Peter Isley, SNAP's Midwest director, said the diocese in 2004 reported in a study commissioned by the U.S. bishops as having had 35 diocesan priests and 16 Norbertine priests who had been accused at some point of child molestation. However, the diocese never released their names, Isley said.
SNAP asked Lasee to approach the diocese to get the names and files, to prosecute any offenders and to demand legislators change a state law that exempts priests and bishops from the mandatory reporting requirements imposed on teachers, social workers and other professionals who work with children.
Lasee said Tuesday that he would honor at least part of SNAP's request.
"I'm willing to at least make contact with the diocese and find out basically whether they have names and whether they're willing to turn them over to us," Lasee said. "I don't know of any mechanism to compel them to do so."
He said he told SNAP representatives Tuesday about "the difficulty of engaging in a sort of widespread investigation of the diocese as a whole, and it's generally outside of how we usually do business. Usually investigations are done by law enforcement and referred to us, and we handle them on a case-by-case basis," he said. "Certainly, if people came forward and reported (they were victimized), we'd look at reports individually and in consultation with the alleged victim make a decision whether it's feasible and whether the case has prosecutorial merit.
Isley and Pilmaier met with Lasee following an Outagamie County jury decision Monday night that the diocese covered up sexual abuse by Rev. John Feeney of Todd and Troy Merryfield in the late 1970s. Feeney was convicted in 2004 of sexual assault of the brothers, but in 2008, they filed suit against the diocese and now-deceased Bisohp Aloysius Wycislo. They claimed the diocese and Wycislo knew Feeney had a history of similar assaults but hid it from parishioners at St. Nicholas Church in Freedom, where the Merryfields attended.
The jury awarded Todd $225,000 and Troy $475,000 in compensation and will consider today whether to impose additional punitive damages.
Deacon Ray DuBois, director of communications for the diocese, said the judge in the Outagamie County case has asked the diocese not to comment on the lawsuit until its conclusion. DuBois also said he hadn't seen SNAP's request to Lasee and had no comment.