Two brothers were awarded $700,000 in civil penalties by a Wisconsin jury that determined the Diocese of Green Bay conspired to cover-up the child sexual abuse allegations against one of its priests. The former Father John Feeney spent eight years in prison after being convicted of committing sexual abuse against children but two brothers, according to a Gannett report, have waited four years for their lawsuit to reach the trial phase against the Diocese of Green Bay for failing to respond to accusations that Feeney was committing sexual abuse against the children in the congregations he served.
Todd and Terry Merryfield believed diocesan officials ignored reports against Feeney before moving him to Freedom’s St. Nicholas Catholic Church, where the brothers served as altar boys. A jury agreed with those charges and handed down their ruling earlier this week.
In 1978, Feeney began serving that congregation and the Merryfields were in their early teens. On numerous occasions they were assaulted by Feeney, sometimes prior to them having to serve their roles as altar boys for the day’s services. And although Feeney has served prison time for the criminal charges he faced, the brothers decided to pursue civil action against the Diocese to aid the other victims of Feeney’s abuse, including those who may not have come forward as they have.
Unpleased with the 2003 conviction of Feeney on four counts of sexual assault against the brothers, the Merryfields continued to investigate the priest’s background and suspected that several other boys were victims of his abuse in the 1960s and 1970s. They had even unearthed a psychiatric report of Feeney in which he openly discussed his sexual impulses with a mental care professional, according to the report. He discussed the complaints against him with Diocesan Bishop Aloysius Wycislo in a letter in 1974, prior to him being transferred to the church where the Merryfield brothers attended.
The brothers, in their civil lawsuit, accused Wycislo and others in the Diocese of ignoring these complaints and allowing Feeney to serve the church, putting more boys at risk of further sexual abuse. The church had twice tried to have the lawsuit against it dismissed and recently publicly defended itself against the charges that it knew of Feeney’s past as a sexual abuser.
A jury spent more than a week weighing the evidence in the case and determined the Diocese knew about Feeney’s abuse before it allowed him to serve at St. Nicholas Church where the Merryfields attended.
It’s been more than a decade since a rash of allegations against Catholic priests surfaced and the church has spent millions, if not more, to defend itself against charges it knew of allegations of sexual abuse being committed by its clergy. Many former priests have been sentenced to prison terms after being convicted of their crimes. And still, more than 10 years later, priests and church officials continue to defend themselves against allegations of sexual abuse or conspiring to ignore these accusations.
Hundreds, and potentially thousands of children were sexually abused by their priests or other church officials and were often intimidated into not telling their parents or civil authorities of crimes committed against them. In many cases, victims of sexual abuse are hesitant to come forward with their allegations, even years after they were abused.