Green Bay Diocese Settles Sex Abuse Lawsuit for $700,000
By Annysa Johnson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
March 19, 2013
The Diocese of Green Bay has agreed to pay $700,000 to two brothers sexually assaulted by a now-defrocked priest, Father John Patrick Feeney, in the 1970s, the first lawsuit of its kind to go to trial in Wisconsin since such cases were blocked by a state Supreme Court ruling in 1995.
"First and foremost, I would like to say I am truly sorry to Todd Merryfield and Troy Merryfield, as well as their families, for the pain they have endured," Green Bay Bishop David Ricken said in a statement announcing the settlement Tuesday.
Michael Finnegan, an attorney representing the brothers, called them "extremely courageous."
"They came forward when they were kids, and again to put Feeney behind bars, and now again in the civil trial," Finnegan said. "They are truly champions for kids."
The settlement matches a $700,000 judgment awarded to the brothers by an Outagamie County jury in May. A judge overturned the verdict because of juror misconduct, and both sides were preparing for a new trial in May.
The diocese also was ordered in November to pay $500,000 to a Nevada man who was molested by Feeney in the 1980s. It is appealing that judgment.
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 boy's groin in the confessional. Feeney was convicted in Wisconsin in 2004 and sentenced to 15 years in prison, but he was released in 2011. He was defrocked in 2005.
Todd Merryfield lives in Port Washington; his brother lives in Virginia.
The Merryfields had accused the diocese of fraud, saying it moved Feeney from parish to parish without telling members about his sexual history.
The Outagamie County trial was the first in Wisconsin since 1995, when the Supreme Court ruled that sex-abuse lawsuits accusing religious institutions of negligent supervision amounted to undue interference in the affairs of the church, effectively blocking such lawsuits for more than a decade. The court reopened the door in 2007, saying victims could sue under the state's fraud statute.