APPLETON – Two sexual assault victims suing the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay will be able to pursue punitive damages as part of their case.
Attorneys for brothers Troy J. and Todd D. Merryfield, formerly of Freedom, filed a third amended civil complaint in the Outagamie County case this week. The new complaint added a punitive damage claim after Judge Nancy Krueger’s Feb. 12 ruling that allowed it.
Punitive damages are awards added beyond actual damages as a means to punish a defendant in cases of misconduct.
Former priest John Patrick Feeney abused the Merryfields in 1978 when they were parishioners at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Freedom. They were 12 and 14 at the time and Feeney is serving a 15-year prison sentence on sexual abuse convictions.
Based on a 2007 state Supreme Court decision, victims of priest abuse can sue under the fraud statutes outside the normal six-year statute of limitations if they can show that they were unaware of the fraud until a later date when the fraud was discovered.
The fraud in this case is the diocese alleged failure to inform St. Nicholas Catholic Church of Feeney’s past, including his church-ordered sexual abuse counseling.
Attorneys for the Merryfields sought to claim punitive damages citing several reports of improper behavior by Feeney brought to the diocese prior to the abuse of the brothers.
“Despite all these reports, the diocese allowed Feeney to have unlimited access to unsuspecting families like the Merryfields,” the motion says.
A trial hasn’t been scheduled.
Attorneys will next appear in court on April 15 for a hearing on the diocese’s motion seeking release of Feeney’s pre-sentence investigation.