APPLETON - A jury has found the Green Bay Catholic Diocese committed fraud when it allowed a priest to continue serving despite rumors of inappropriate behavior with children.
The jurors agreed with the claims by Todd and Troy Merryfield. They were persuaded the diocese knew one-time priest John Feeney had an inappropriate history with children before he molested the brothers when he worked at a church in Freedom in 1978.
After just shy of five hours of deliberations, the jury brought back a verdict.
"Was it known to the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay that Father John Feeney was a danger to children on or before May 1978? Answer: Yes," read Judge Nancy Krueger.
After the verdict was read, the Merryfield family shared hugs through tears. The jury awarded Todd Merryfield $225,000 and Troy Merryfield $475,000, but they refused to comment, because there is one phase left in the trial.
"We can't talk at this point," said Todd Merryfield.
But earlier in the day, during closing arguments, Todd Merryfield's lawyer, Jeff Anderson, made it clear they place the blame squarely on Bishop Aloysious Wycislo, head of the diocese in the 1970s.
"He did intend to deceive and that is a fraud and that was a series of conscious choices made by whom? The Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay and that is why we are here," said Anderson.
Following the verdict, Deacon Tim Reilly spoke out on behalf of the diocese and the former, now deceased Bishop Wycislo.
"We respect the deliberations and decision of the jury, however, we also respectfully disagree with their with their decisions. The jury's decision is contrary to what we believe to be the judgment and actions of Bishop Wycislo and how the Diocese of Green Bay reviewed John Feeney's actions prior to 1978," said Reilly.
Reilly also said the diocese will look into appealing the jury's decision. He said the cost will be a difficult burden for the diocese to bear.
The last phase in the trial will be the punitive phase. This means the diocese could be made to pay more money solely as a form of punishment. That phase is scheduled to begin and be completed Wednesday.
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