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Jury finds Green Bay Catholic Diocese liable for fraud

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The defense begins its case in a fraud trial brought by two priest abuse victims against the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, May 17, 2012. (courtesy of FOX 11)
The defense begins its case in a fraud trial brought by two priest abuse victims against the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, May 17, 2012. (courtesy of FOX 11)

APPLETON, WI (WTAQ) - An Outagamie County jury has found the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay liable for committing fraud in a decision Monday involving a civil lawsuit.

The 12 person jury agrees with brothers Todd and Troy Merryfield in their claim the diocese committed fraud when it allowed former priest John Feeney to continue serving despite rumors of inappropriate behavior with children. 

Feeney would be convicted in 2008 of molesting the Merryfields while he was at a Freedom church in 1978. 

But the jury did not agree on the award the brothers were seeking. Attorneys for the Merryfield brothers have asked the jury for a total of $2.7 million between them. The lawyer for the diocese said the jury should award no more than $100,000 if the jury finds the diocese guilty of fraud. 

Todd Merryfield was awarded $225,000, while Troy Merryfield was awarded $475,000.

The jury began deliberating since about 12:30 p.m. Monday following 4 days of testimony and a morning of closing arguments from both sides.

The verdict form is comprised of 10 questions. Seven of those questions relate to the fraud elements brought in the case, meaning what the diocese knew and when they knew it.

In closing arguments Monday morning attorneys on both sides tried to show the bishop is the key to the case.

"He did intend to deceive and that is a fraud and that was a series of conscious choices made by whom? The Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay and that is why we are here," said Jeff Anderson, attorney for Todd Merryfield.

"This is not a man who sits back and doesn't do anything when he hears about anything that could be improper, that's what swimming in the nude was," said Pat Brennan, attorney for the diocese.

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