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Green Bay diocese settles with 2 sex abuse victims

APPLETON, Wis. (AP) – Two brothers who were molested by a now-defrocked priest in the late 1970s will receive $700,000 under a settlement with the Diocese of Green Bay announced Tuesday.

Todd and Troy Merryfield had sued the diocese for fraud, alleging the diocese withheld knowledge of the priest’s prior sexual misconduct. The Rev. John Feeney later was convicted of sexually abusing the brothers when they were boys.

Outagamie County Judge Nancy Krueger dismissed the lawsuit Monday, based on the agreement between the diocese and the brothers, The Post-Crescent reported.

Green Bay Bishop David L. Ricken issued a statement Tuesday apologizing to the Merryfields and all victims of child sexual abuse.

“First and foremost, I would like to say I am truly sorry to Todd Merryfield and Troy Merryfield, as well as their families, for the pain they have endured from child sexual abuse and the lawsuits that followed,” Ricken wrote. “I hope and pray that they can experience God’s healing presence within their hearts.”

Mike Finnegan, an attorney for the Merryfields, applauded the brothers for coming forward and holding the diocese accountable. So did a clergy abuse victims advocacy group, The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, which faulted the diocese for not settling earlier.

“The diocese has likely spent well in excess of the settlement amount ordered by the jury in the trial in which they were initially found guilty,” Peter Isely, SNAP Midwest director in Milwaukee, said in a statement Tuesday.

Under the settlement, the Merryfields, now in their late 40s, will receive $700,000 – the same amount a jury awarded to the brothers last year, Finnegan said. The judge had overturned that verdict and ordered a new trial after ruling a juror had been biased.

A retrial had been scheduled for May.

The Merryfields filed the lawsuit in 2008. They claimed the diocese knew Feeney had a history of sexual misconduct when it installed him as a priest at Freedom’s St. Nicholas Church. They said the diocese falsely portrayed Feeney as safe, even though church officials knew he was a danger to children.

The Merryfields attended religious education courses as children at the Freedom church. The diocese disputed having known about Feeney’s sexual misconduct.

Feeney was convicted in Outagamie County in 2004 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison on four sexual assault counts regarding the Merryfields. He was released after serving nearly eight years.

Feeney, 86, was removed from priestly duties in 1986 and was removed from the priesthood entirely in 2005. He was released from prison in late 2011 and is living in Missouri.

The Wisconsin case isn’t the only one brought against the diocese based on Feeney’s conduct. In November, the Green Bay diocese was ordered to pay $500,000 after being held liable in a Nevada civil lawsuit. A Las Vegas jury concluded the diocese was negligent in transferring Feeney to a Nevada parish, where he allegedly molested a 13-year-old boy.

Information from: The Post-Crescent,

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