Friday, October 28th, 2016

Would you trust your kid to David Prosser?


Does it occur to Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser that his version of the story doesn’t sound so great, either?

In a December 1978 letter, Wycislo wrote to the chair of the Diocesan Personnel Committee chairman:

“I have just spent a half hour with the district attorney for Outagamie County, who presented me with evidence of a number of crimes of like sexual nature and a number of other civil violations of law that the attorney feels are base enough for a court case against Father (John Patrick) Feeney.

“As is usual in such cases and out of respect for the position of the church, and in order to prevent unnecessary scandal, the DA came to see me merely to state that he was pursuing this case, gathering evidence toward prosecution of Father Feeney for a number of misdemeanors.

“I had to agree with the district attorney that the church would prefer to keep this out of court and out of the public eye and IU was able to tell him of our decision last week, with which he agreed.”

Feeney, now 81, was convicted in 2004 and is serving 15 years in jail for assaulting Todd and Troy Merryfield. The incident and its aftermath is the basis for the civil fraud suit that prompted the release of church documents.

Prosser said it was after two reports of Feeney’s misconduct that he went to talk to Wycislo in June or July 1978 to suggest Feeney be removed from the public ministry.

Prosser said one set of allegations came from Sharon Merryfield, whom he knew from high school. She said Feeney touched the two sons’ chests while they were saying prayers at home before going to bed. Feeney tried to move his hands lower, but one rolled over and the other protested, the woman told Prosser.

Prosser said he believed the boys, but didn’t think he could win a case.

“I told Sharon (Merryfield) that a trial was going to be a test of credibility of two young boys against a priest,” Prosser said. “I believed the boys. Their credibility would be attacked in court. They would be national news. It would be difficult for them at trial and in their small community.”

Prosser noted another factor in his decision was that the state’s sexual assault laws were rewritten in the late 1970s — changing from rape to sexual assault — and were complicated and untested.

Prosser said when his he raised concerns about Feeney’s conduct, Wycislo said he would “take care of it.”

“I assumed that when the Bishop said he would take care of it that he would remove this guy from the parish,” Prosser said. “I don’t think he acted promptly.”

Prosser stopped short of saying the information in the letter was wrong, but said the timeline of the letter’s facts is questionable and the bishop’s assertions are exaggerated.

Prosser said that in December 1978 he was two weeks away from leaving the prosecutor job to take office in the Wisconsin legislature.

“I did not talk about this with my successor,” Prosser said. “I thought it had been over for months.”

While not on the level of collusion between Milwaukee District Attorney McCann and Archbishop Rembert Weakland, certainly Prosser had a responsibility to follow up on this case, to examine if there were any more allegations regarding the priest, and to make sure this priest never was allowed near children again. He claims he believed the children. Then he owed them more than just talking to the parish. If not as a prosecutor, then as a human being.

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