Wisconsin diocese to pay $500,000 in priest abuse case

Associated Press/November 2, 2012

Las Vegas - A Nevada jury has ordered a Wisconsin diocese to pay $500,000 to a man who claims the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay knew a priest had a history of molesting children but transferred him to a Las Vegas parish anyway.

The man claims John Patrick Feeney sexually assaulted him in 1984 at the Las Vegas parish. His civil lawsuit accuses the Green Bay diocese of failing to reveal Feeney's history of sexual abuse. The Associated Press does not usually name victims of sexual assault.

The plaintiff's attorney, Jeff Anderson, of Minneapolis, said his client reported the assault when he was a child, but no one believed him. He was inspired to come forward again after hearing about other men who said they were assaulted by Feeney, he said.

"The diocese has continued to deny they're responsible," Anderson said. "This is just a courageous effort to break that denial and expose some of the sordid details."

Tim Reilly, general director of the Diocesan Curia, said the Green Bay diocese apologizes again to clergy sex abuse victims and will work to keep all children safe.

Reilly said in a statement that the diocese will continue to adhere to its policies, which include barring from ministry any clergy member who has a credible allegation of abuse of a minor against him. The diocese said it will continue to require background checks on all staff and volunteers and report all credible abuse allegations to local law enforcement officials.

Peter Isely, Midwest director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said it's the first time the Green Bay diocese has been held accountable in a civil court of law "for their decades-long practice of concealing and transferring priest child sex offenders."

"The brave victim in this case, John Doe 119, is to be commended for holding the Green Bay Diocese accountable for concealing and facilitating decades of child sex crimes," Isely said in a statement. "Children in Nevada and Wisconsin are safer today because of his courage."

Feeney was convicted in 2004 of assaulting two young brothers when he worked at St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Freedom. He was defrocked, served eight years of a 15-year sentence and was released to a halfway house. In 2008, the brothers filed a civil lawsuit against the former priest. A Wisconsin judge threw out a verdict in their favor in July because of juror bias.

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