Opening statements under way in priest abuse fraud trial

APPLETON – With testimony underway, attorneys for the Merryfields laid the foundation for their case.

“We’ll show the diocese knew he had impulse control and the diocese knew he was reckless in not caring whether or not he was a molester,” said Jeff Anderson, attorney for Todd Merryfield.

A claim the diocese denies.

“These claims are false, untrue and we will show you why,” said Pat Brennan, attorney for the Green Bay Diocese.

Bishop Aloysious Wycislo ran the Green Bay Diocese from 1968-1983. Wycislo died in 2005 but attorney’s for the Merryfields read deposition testimony Wycislo gave in 1995. That testimony related to a letter written to Wycislo by a parishioner concerned about then Father John Feeney’s conduct around children. Wycislo acknowledged he was aware Feeney would swim nude with boys and encouraged them to do the same. Wycislo also testified he also knew Feeney would shower with boys. An attorney for the Merryfields read the bishop’s response to Feeney.

“If I hear anymore about swimming in the nude and encouraging boys to do it too, I will suspend you.”

The Merryfields allege the diocese committed fraud by knowing Feeney had a history of improper conduct with children prior to when Feeney sexually abused the Merryfields in 1978. Other priests testified they also were aware of Feeney’s inappropriate conduct with children.

“Nude swimming and towel snapping, I heard about that,” said Father Robert Vandenberg.

At some point Feeney was ordered by Bishop Wycislo to see a priest psychologist.

“The Bishop was waiting for Dr. Kelly’s recommendation before acting on this problem,” said Father Lawrence Canavera.

That recommendation said Feeney had “a potential risk of impulsive behavior.” Canavera testified that behavior included inappropriate sexual touching of children.

“The Bishop scolded him, in my own words here, he said ‘don’t ever let this happen again,’ it was like a parent talking to a child,” he said.

All in response to incidents the priests testified happened before 1978.

“A word like pedophilia was not used, we did not know the problem was there,” said Canavera.

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