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Church leaders face fraud lawsuit in priest sex-abuse case


APPLETON, Wis (WSAU) Jury selection is scheduled to begin this morning in Appleton in a civil fraud trial against the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay. Todd and Troy Merryfield said they were molested as young boys in 1978 by former priest John Patrick Feeney when he was at Saint Nicholas Catholic Church in Freedom. But before then the brothers said the diocese had moved Feeney from parish-to-parish without warning parishioners about previous sexual abuse he had committed.

The Merryfields filed their civil case just over four years ago, well after Feeney was criminally convicted in the assaults. The church denies the fraud allegations, and has twice failed to get the civil suit dropped -- most recently last month. Efforts to reach an out-of-court settlement had failed.

Peter Isley of the Survivors’ Network of those Abused by Priests said Feeney quote, “left a river of sorrow behind him.” Isley said the trial would hold meaning for the pastor’s victims who never came forward. Feeney, who’s now in his mid-80’s, was sent to prison in 2004. He was released last fall, and is now living in Missouri. His criminal case proceeded only because Feeney had moved to California, which ended his statute-of-limitations in Wisconsin. Todd Merryfield now lives in Port Washington, and his brother lives in Suffolk, Virginia.

Their trial is expected last about two weeks.

Retired Cardinal Adam Maida is listed at a witness, along with bishops David Ricken and Robert Morneau.