Green Bay Diocese Seeks to Overturn $700,000 Sex Abuse Verdict
By Annysa Johnson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
July 17, 2012
An Outagamie County Judge could decide as early as Tuesday whether to overturn a $700,000 judgment against the Diocese of Green Bay over its placement of a sexually abusive priest in the 1970s.
Attorneys for the diocese have asked Outagamie Judge Nancy Krueger to dismiss the case, grant a new trial or reduce the judgment, arguing that a juror failed to divulge that she suspected the priest of molesting her own brother, and that the First Amendment bars the courts from meddling in the church’s employment decisions. Krueger heard oral arguments on its motions Tuesday.
The May verdict, in favor of brother Troy and Todd Merryfield, marked the first time a sex abuse victim had successfully sued the Catholic Church in Wisconsin since 1995 when the state Supreme Court barred such cases as an undue intrusion by the courts into the affairs of religious organizations. The court reopened the door in 2007 in cases in which the victims alleged fraud.
The Merryfields’ lawsuit is the first such case to go to trial in the state. They accused diocese of defrauding them by placing the now-defrocked Father Patrick Feeney into their parish without telling members about his sexual abuse history.
Feeney sexually assaulted the Merryfield brothers in 1978 at St. Nicholas Parish in Freedom when they were 12 and 14 years old, in one case putting his hand on one of the boy's groin in the confessional. He was convicted in 2004 and sentenced to 15 years in prison but was released last year.
The Green Bay Press Gazette has been covering the story.