Updated: Thursday, 16 Jul 2009, 5:48 PM CDT
Published : Thursday, 16 Jul 2009, 11:48 AM CDT
The Catholic Diocese of Green Bay has lost its insurance coverage in a civil suit alleging fraud related to sexual assaults by a priest.
Troy and Todd Merryfield sued the Catholic Diocese for fraud, alleging fraud and fraudulent non-disclosure regarding sexual misconduct by Fr. Patrick Feeney.
Feeney, since defrocked, was convicted in 2004 of assaulting the brothers in 1978. He is serving a 15-year prison sentence.
After the suit was filed, the Diocese's insurance company, Indiana Insurance, asked to be dismissed from the case, claiming since the Diocese's actions were intentional, the policy didn't cover the case.
In a ruling signed Wednesday, Outagamie County Judge Nancy Krueger agreed and dismissed the insurance company.
"The Plantiffs allege the Diocese acted with an intent to keep knowledge of Father Feeney's past actions from the parishes to which it sent him and by extension from the Plantiffs. As the policy specifically excludes coverage for intentional acts, Indiana has no obligation under this policy to defend and indemnify the Diocese in this matter," Krueger wrote.
Jeff Anderson, who represents the Merryfields, said he is not concerned with the lack of insurance coverage for the Diocese, saying it has adequate resources to pay whatever damages award a jury makes.
"We want the children to be protected and we want those who have been wounded to be compensated," Anderson said. "And it's the Diocese of Green Bay's corporate officers that need to he held, ultimately, to account for the misdeeds of the past so it doesn't get repeated in the future."
The Diocese issued the following the statement:
"The Diocese of Green Bay is disappointed with the courts’ ruling that Indiana Insurance Company does not have to provide insurance coverage for two civil lawsuits filed against the Diocese – one in Outagamie County and one in Clark County, Nevada. The Diocese of Green Bay is adamant that it did not willfully commit fraud in the assignment of former priest, John Feeney. Because these matters are still in litigation, the Diocese will have no further comment at this time."
Barbara Dorris, the St. Louis outreach director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, issued the following statement.
"This judge has found what victims and Catholics have known for years: Catholic officials knowingly, repeatedly concealed clergy child sex crimes. These weren't 'accidents' or 'mistakes' or 'misjudgments.' Top church staffers deliberately hid felonies and endangered kids. Why should insurance companies financially reward such inexcusable criminal conduct?
Let's hope this ruling prompts others who saw, suspected or suffered crimes by clerics to come forward, call police, protect others and start healing," Dorris wrote.
Deacon Tim Reilly, Director of Administration of the Diocese of Green Bay, made the following comment in response to the statement from SNAP:
"This is another example of the SNAP organization trying to
mislead the public by making false statements without regard for
the truth. Barbara Dorris obviously did not read or study Judge
Krueger’s ruling. The judge ruled that since attorney
Anderson’s pleadings in the civil litigation alleged
intentional conduct by Diocesan officials, the insurance company is
not required to pay legal expenses or potential settlement costs
because the insurance policy excludes intentional acts. Judge
Krueger did not rule on the merits of the allegations made by
Attorney Anderson, which the Diocese explicitly denies and will
vigorously defend," Reilly said.
The Diocese's statement also made reference to its website's section on abuse issues.
To read the full decision, click here.