By Carrie Antlfinger Associated Press
MILWAUKEE – Two brothers molested by a priest filed a fraud lawsuit Wednesday, alleging the overseeing diocese knew the priest had a history of abusing children and allowed him access to the pair anyway.
Defrocked Roman Catholic priest John Patrick Feeney, now 81, was convicted in 2004 of sexually assaulting two adolescent brothers in 1978 at St. Nicholas Parish in Freedom, which is in Outagamie County. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The victims, Troy and Todd Merryfield, claim in the civil suit filed that the Diocese of Green Bay knew Feeney had a history of molesting children and continued to give him unsupervised access to the pair. The suit, which alleges fraud and negligence, claims Feeney had sexual contact with boys during the 1960s and 1970s.
Feeney worked in 19 communities in the eastern half of Wisconsin from 1952 through 1983, according to the suit filed in Outagamie County about 100 miles north of Milwaukee.
The brothers made the community safe by coming forward a few years ago in the criminal case, said Peter Isely, Midwest director of The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
“Troy and Todd have too long shouldered the ethical responsibility that belongs to those who knew that Fr. Feeney was a dangerous predator yet repeatedly set him (loose) on unsuspecting and trusting Catholic families in the Green Bay diocese,” Isely wrote in a letter to be delivered to Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan on Wednesday.
Isely asked Dolan, who is temporarily overseeing the Green Bay diocese, to release the names and locations of 51 clergy allegedly known by church officials in Green Bay to have abused children.
Diocese spokeswoman Renee Bauer said the diocese hadn’t seen the suit and had no immediate comment Wednesday.
The suit says the diocese and Feeney’s parish, St. Benedict Parish in Suamico, required him to get counseling in 1974. In a letter included in the suit, a doctor who counseled Feeney wrote, “under stress your usual controls over sexual impulses may fail and cause some indiscretions in this aspect of your functioning.”
Also, according to a confidential diocese memo include in the suit, the Bishop of Green Bay wrote a letter to Feeney in 1978 and warned him about being more “prudent in the hearing of confessions, especially with young people.”
The men claim the diocese, by placing Feeney in Freedom, portrayed him as safe to children and families. They asked for money in an amount to be determined at trial.
The brothers “have suffered and continue to suffer great pain of mind and body, shock, emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, disgrace, humiliation and loss of enjoyment of life,” the suit says.
Todd Merryfield, 43, lives Cedarburg, Wis., and Troy Merryfield, 42, lives in Suffolk, Va.
Isely said SNAP has filed seven similar suits in Milwaukee.
It planned a news conference Thursday in Las Vegas because Feeney had been reassigned to several parishes in Nevada. SNAP will urge parishes where Feeney served to alert their members and encourage possible victims to go to authorities, Isely said.