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Jury awards brothers $700K in diocese lawsuit

Dan Merryfield comforts his wife, Sharon, after a jury ruled Monday the Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay was responsible for concealing Rev. John Feeney's history of child molestation. (AP Photo/The Post-Crescent, Dan Powers)

APPLETON, Wis. (AP) – An Outagamie County jury on Monday awarded two brothers $700,000 in a fraud trial against the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay.

The civil jury found the diocese responsible Monday for concealing a former priest’s history of child molestation.

Brothers Todd and Troy Merryfield sued the diocese in 2008, alleging the diocese was aware the Rev. John Feeney sexually assaulted others before 1978, when it assigned him to Freedom’s St. Nicholas Church. Feeney was convicted in 2004 for the sexual assaults of the Merryfields and has already served his prison sentence.

The jury awarded Troy Merryfield $475,000 and Todd $225,000 in damages, The Post-Crescent reported.

The Merryfields’ attorneys had asked the jury to award Troy $1.8 million in damages and Todd $900,000. The diocese attorney, Patrick Brennan, said if the jury found the diocese liable, the brothers should be given $100,000.

In a statement Monday, the diocese said it regrets what happened to the Merryfields and apologized “for the pain and suffering it has caused them and their families.” But the diocese said it disagrees with the jury’s verdict and “will have to assess our legal remedies of appeal to ensure that truth and justice prevail.”

The diocese has said it had no knowledge of abuse.

The jury will return for a second phase of the trial Wednesday to consider possible punitive damages against the diocese and will hear more witnesses.

The diocese argued the psychological impact of the abuse on the brothers was minor and there’s not enough evidence to back the Merryfields’ claim that Bishop Aloysius Wycislo, who was in charge of ensuring priests were fit to serve, knew Feeney had a history of molestation and committed fraud by representing him as safe.

Over the past week, Jeffrey Anderson and John Peterson, the Merryfields’ attorneys, called several priests as witnesses. The priests testified there were allegations of inappropriate behavior by Feeney – that he swam naked with boys and showered with them after basketball games – long before he assaulted the Merryfields in 1978.

But the bishop, who died in 2005, said in a previous deposition testimony that if there was merit to complaints of sexual abuse by Feeney, he would have immediately suspended the priest.

Feeney has been defrocked and was recently released from prison.

Information from: The Post-Crescent,

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