The Appleton Post Crescent reports that attempts at mediating a civil lawsuit filed against the Green Bay diocese have failed. The lawsuit was filed by two brothers, Todd and Troy Merryfield, who were sexually assaulted as children by Fr. John Patrick Feeney, one of the Green Bay diocese’s most notorious sex offenders.
Feeney was convicted in 2003 of sexually assaulting the Merryfield brothers and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was released in November after serving less than 8 years of his sentence.
The civil trial is scheduled to begin on May 14th.
Feeney had a long history of sexual misconduct in the Green Bay diocese, and church officials knew about it. In his first 14 years as a priest he was assigned to 14 different parishes, a staggering number of transfers for a diocesan priest.
A lawsuit filed in 1994, which was later settled out of court, revealed that Feeney had reportedly had sexual contact with a girl in the confessional in 1958. In 1978 parents notified the diocese that Feeney had “snapped” the pajama bottoms of their sons and asked questions about their penises.
Documents from that lawsuit revealed that in 1978 then Green Bay bishop John Wycislo wrote to Feeney stating that he would be allowed to remain in Freedom Wisconsin, where he was serving as a priest, under the condition that he undergo counseling. Wycislo wrote “If I were you I would stay away from young people”.
Wycislo transferred Feeney yet again in 1979 and wrote “if there is any repetition of past problems…and in the event a trial were to eventuate because of recent allegations against you, you will be immediately suspended and deprived of the faculties of this diocese”.
Church officials had reports that Feeney had “inappropriately touched” a minor and was known to have taken showers with boys at the local high school.
Wycislo eventually asked Feeney to leave his diocese, promising to grant him a letter of support adding that “It is a pity that serving the Diocese of Green Bay ends this way, but, really, haven’t we all tried?”
Feeney was moved to San Diego, and later to the Diocese of Reno/Las Vegas where he was assigned as a prison chaplain and was accused of bringing women’s underwear and drug paraphernalia into the prison in exchange for sexual favors.
Feeney was later arrested under Wisconsin’s “fleeing sex offender” law which allows prosecution of child sex crimes which would normally be time barred under the old statute of limitations laws if the offender has left the state.
The current civil lawsuit underway against the diocese of Green Bay may be the only chance to hold church officials there accountable for enabling the rape and sexual assault of countless children, and the subsequent cover up of those crimes by church officials.
In 2006 then Green Bay Bishop David Zubik, under the guise of a new “record retention policy” ordered the destruction of virtually all the personnel records and sexual assault histories of clerics who have worked in the Green Bay diocese.
The new “policy” went into effect shortly before the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that victims of clergy sex crimes could file a case for fraud against the diocese if they could demonstrate that church officials knew a priest posed a danger to children and then chose to give that cleric additional access to even more youngsters.
The diocese of Green Bay, according to a national study released by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2004, lists a total of at least 51clerics who have sexually assaulted children in the diocese.
It is likely that much of the criminal evidence against these individuals was destroyed when Zubik’s new “policy” was put into effect, which makes this current case against the Green Bay diocese so important.