APPLETON — The Catholic Diocese of Green Bay agreed to pay $700,000 in settlement of a civil lawsuit brought by two brothers who were molested by the Rev. John Feeney in the 1970s.
Outagamie County Judge Nancy Krueger dismissed the case on Monday, based on the agreement reached by the diocese and Todd and Troy Merryfield. The settlement matches the verdict reached at a trial last year. Krueger subsequently overturned the verdict and ordered a new trial after finding a member of the jury was biased.
The case would have been re-tried in May.
Green Bay Bishop David 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.”
The Merryfields couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
John Peterson, an attorney for the brothers, said the settlement eliminates what would’ve been a long road ahead all involved.
He predicted the case would’ve gone to appeal regardless of the verdict and would have likely ended up before the state Supreme Court. There was a chance that on appeal, the case would’ve gone to trial for a third time.
The Merryfields are pleased to have reached a conclusion.
“They feel vindicated,” he said.
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. Feeney assaulted the brothers, then ages 12 and 14, in 1978.
The diocese disputed having had knowledge of Feeney’s sexual misconduct.
The Outagamie County case wasn’t the only case 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.
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 case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning the Merryfields are prohibited from re-filing their claims.
Deacon Timothy Reilly also offered a statement of apology.
“I also want to extend my heartfelt compassion to them for the difficult years of this litigation as both parties searched for the truth,” he wrote. “I hope and pray that this settlement will give them and their families some degree of peace.”
Mike Finnegan, an attorney for Troy Merryfield, praised the men for their long-time efforts to achieve justice for their abuse. He said their ultimate motivation was to assure that other children wouldn’t have to go through what they did.
“These guys are heroes to me and they truly are champions for children,” he said.