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Jury rules Green Bay Diocese committed fraud

APPLETON - A jury in Appleton ruled yesterday that the Green Bay Catholic Diocese committed fraud, by hiding a priest's child molestation from parishioners.

After a one-week civil trial, jurors agreed that the church was aware that the Reverend John Feeney molested others before he was transferred to a church in Freedom in 1978. And the church's silence about his record allowed Feeney to sexually assault brothers Todd and Troy Merryfield when they were 12-to-14 years old. Jurors awarded Troy $475,000 and Todd $225,000 in compensatory damages. Their attorneys had asked for around four times that much. The church had said they should only get $100,000.

Feeney served almost eight years in prison on a criminal conviction in the Merryfield assaults. But the plaintiffs said the church needed to be liable as well. In a statement after the verdict, the Green Bay Diocese apologized for the pain-and-suffering that Feeney caused the Merryfields and their families. But the church said it disagreed with the jury's verdict, and it will consider appealing to quote, "ensure that truth and justice prevail."

Jurors will return tomorrow to consider assessing punitive damages against the church.