APPLETON - A witness for the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay admitted Thursday in court that he heard rumors about a now former priest's alleged improper behavior, but did nothing about it.
Troy and Todd Merryfield are suing the diocese. The brothers claim the diocese knew now former priest John Feeney had inappropriate contact with children before he sexually abused them in 1978 while he worked at a church in Freedom. Feeney was convicted in 2004.
Thursday was day four of the trial.
As a vicar with the Green Bay Diocese in the 1970s, Msgr. Paul Koszarek was a leader among the other priests. He knew John Feeney.
Under questioning from defense attorney Pat Brennan, Koszarek admitted to hearing rumors about the former priest decades ago.
"How about showering after basketball games with certain youths? Did you know about that?" asked Brennan.
"Yes, by rumor," answered Koszarek.
On cross examination, Koszarek explained why he didn't take that information to a higher authority.
"Because of the nature of the rumor. I don't think I had a responsibility to investigate a rumor," said Koszarek.
Koszarek testified even if the rumors were true, that kind of behavior, swimming naked with boys or showering with them was considered "improper," not illegal by the diocese.
The defense also produced newspaper articles from around the 1970s showing culture was more accepting of that kind of behavior then.
"There was nothing at that time that impugned his character or competence," said Koszarek of Feeney.
Msgr. James Vanden Hogen was on the priest personnel board for the diocese in the 1970s. Brennan asked him if the board ever discussed sexual abuse allegations against Feeney.
"Abuse of youths? Sex abuse by Father Feeney, do you have any memory of anything like that back then?" asked Brennan.
"I have no memory of it, no recall," answered Vanden Hogen.
Vanden Hogen testified that if abuse allegations had been brought to the board, the bishop at the time, Aloysious Wycislo, would have investigated Feeney.
"I recall that he carried out everything. He was very professional in what he did," said Vanden Hogen of Wycislo.
But there was no such investigation and the Merryfields maintain there should have been.
The attorney for the diocese is expected to wrap up its case Friday. Closing arguments are scheduled for Monday, then the decision will be in the jury's hands.
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