Records Indicate Prosser Declined to Prosecute Priest in 1979

Associated Press

(MILWAUKEE) Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser told a mother in 1979 when he was Outagamie County district attorney that he did not want to prosecute a priest accused of abusing her sons because “it would be too hard on the boys,” newly released documents indicate.

The Green Bay priest, John Patrick Feeney, who is now 81, was eventually convicted in 2004 on three counts of sexual assault of a minor and one count of attempted sexual assault of a minor.

Prosser is scheduled to hear a case brought by another priest that could result in Feeney being freed from the Fox Lake Correctional Institution, where he is serving a 15-year sentence.

But Troy Merryfield, who says he was among Feeney’s victims, urged Prosser on Monday to step aside when cases involving priest sexual misconduct come before the high court.

“He dropped the ball, and he should recuse himself,” Merryfield said.

Prosser declined to comment, saying thorough a spokesman he could not discuss the matter because of litigation pending before the high court.

Prosser’s involvement in Feeney’s case was described in documents released by lawyers who have sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Green Bay for fraud. They say the church had long known that Feeney had abused children but did nothing to warn parents in parishes where Feeney was assigned.

The state Supreme Court, including Prosser, ruled unanimously last year that the church could be sued for fraud because of its failure to warn parishioners.

Vincent Biskupic, the prosecutor who handled the criminal case against Feeney, said Monday that he did not question Prosser’s impartiality.

The era was different, he said, and he believes Prosser was sincerely concerned about the victims testifying at trial.

“We were able to gather a wealth of information that far exceeded what Prosser had,” Biskupic said. “It’s not fair to second-guess him now.”

But Troy Merryfield disagreed, saying other children could have been spared abuse.

“It wasn’t as if sexual abuse of a child wasn’t a felony back then,” he said. “The laws were on the books, and he should have prosecuted.”