Feeney Verdict: Guilty

By Dan Wilson
February 27, 2004

APPLETON -- As the verdicts were being read by the court clerk, Troy Merryfield held up a finger each time a verdict was read.

He used four fingers, as former Catholic priest John Patrick Feeney, 77, was found guilty after six hours of deliberation on four of the five counts of sexual assault for incidents involving Troy and his older brother Todd in 1978.

After the verdict, Outagamie County Circuit Judge Dennis Luebke allowed Feeney, now of Los Angeles, to remain free on a $100,000 cash bond until his April 30 sentencing.

Feeney showed no emotion as he was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault of a child and one count of attempted sexual assault of child -- charges that carry a maximum of 60 years in prison.

Throughout the trial and the reading of the verdict, Feeney remained impassive, often with his hands folded and eyes closed.

"Hopefully he will die in jail and then he'll face God's punishment," said Merryfield, 38, who was 12 when Feeney, the parish priest at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Freedom, came into his bedroom and assaulted him.

"He belonged behind bars a long time ago," he said.

His brother, Todd, now 39, said he and his brother were standing in for a lot of other nameless, faceless victims of Feeney's.

"There is a lot of injury and hurt out there. It is a relief today," he said. "I am thankful that it is done. I wish the others had their shot at justice. The other ones don't have a voice and there is a lot of them out there."

Special prosecutor Vince Biskupic had on his witness list 10 other alleged Feeney victims whose cases never resulted in charges because of the statute of limitations. Biskupic said those 10 plus Todd and Troy may reflect only a percentage of Feeney's victims.

Those victims were never called to testify because of a ruling by Luebke that would only allow their testimony under a narrow set of circumstances.

The only reason the Merryfields' case could be prosecuted was because Feeney left the state in 1983, which "stopped the clock" on the statute of limitations, making it possible to reopen their case in 2002.

Defense attorney Gerald Boyle was unable to stay until the verdict was read and could not be reached by phone for a reaction to the verdict.

His associate, Joe Paulus, filled in for Boyle, but declined to comment after the verdicts.

In his closing statement, Boyle asked "is it sexual motivation when someone touches a young man's chest? I am not going to say they are bad or evil or making things up. Under any view of the facts, you cannot find John Patrick Feeney guilty of sexual assault."

Biskupic said he also felt some vindication for Feeney's other victims.

"It is important that this case was prosecuted for the other victims," he said. "John Patrick Feeney is a sex offender. The fact that he was in a particular profession does not reflect on an entire profession."

Biskupic said he was happy with the cooperation he received from the Green Bay Diocese in prosecuting this case.

He also said he received assistance from other priests.

Shortly after the verdict was issued, Bishop David Zubik of the Green Bay Diocese issued a statement.

"With a guilty verdict rendered against Father John Feeney, I take this opportunity to apologize to those who have been hurt by Father Feeney's actions and to pray for them. In this season of Lent, we are reminded by our Lord Jesus Christ that he died for all of our sins so each of us could experience the forgiveness of our Father. May God bring healing to those who have suffered because of Father Feeney's actions and may God have mercy on Father Feeney."

Biskupic told the jurors during his closing argument that the Merryfields had no ulterior motive in prosecuting Feeney after all these years.

"They were sought out, for the most part," he said. "They had moved on with their lives. This is not a case where they went to law enforcement. Law enforcement came to them."

The jury apparently agreed. On the one count that was dismissed, attempted sexual assault of a child, it would have required the jury to believe two separate acts of sexual assault occurred when Feeney touched Todd Merryfield in his bed in May 1978.

A special report in The Post Crescent, published in May 2002, detailed how Feeney was moved from parish to parish 14 times in 14 years, commonly after allegations of sexual misconduct, during his stint in the Green Bay Diocese. In all, Feeney served at 18 parishes in the diocese between his June 1952 ordination and before moving to California in 1983.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.