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Court Official Refuses To Ax Abuse Charges Against Priest

Dec 17, 2002 | AP

A 75-year-old priest accused of molesting an altar boy in 1978 failed Monday to convince a court commissioner to dismiss the charges or let him leave Wisconsin to spend the holidays with his family in California.

Outagamie County Circuit Commissioner Brian Figy rejected arguments by John Patrick Feeney’s attorney that the statute of limitations on filing charges had expired.

Feeney is charged with three felonies one count of sexual assault of a child and two counts of attempted sexual assault of a child.

Feeney, dressed in a black suit with a cranberry-colored shirt, sat with his hands clasped together and resting on his chest as Figy gave his ruling during an hour-long court hearing.

The priest declined comment afterward.

Prosecutors allege Feeney sexually assaulted a 12-year-old altar boy during a March or April 1978 confession and attempted to assault the boy and his 14-year-old brother during a visit to their home in May of that year.

Feeney was pastor of St. Nicholas Church in Freedom when the assaults occurred, the criminal complaint said.

In his ruling Monday, Figy agreed with prosecutors that the six-year statute of limitations on filing the criminal charges hadn’t expired because Feeney left the state in 1983.

The priest’s attorney, Melissa Karls, said she wasn’t surprised by the ruling and she expected it would be appealed.

The exact circumstances under which Feeney dealt with the allegations by the boys and then left the state in 1983 without hiding his identity, believing the issue was behind him, has never been decided by a state Supreme Court case, Karls said.

She contended that prosecutors failed to show that Feeney had never been back to Wisconsin at any time since 1983.

The next step is for Feeney’s accusers to testify at a preliminary hearing, but no date for one was set.

In his only statement to the court, the priest responded “Yes, your honor” when Figy asked him if he wished to waive a requirement that a preliminary hearing be held within 20 days.

The court commissioner also denied Feeney’s request that he be allowed to leave the state to visit family in California during the Christmas holidays and to take care of personal business there.

Karls said Feeney is living in a Milwaukee motel and also leases an apartment in California. “It is expensive for him,” she said.

Assistant District Attorney John Daniels objected to letting Feeney leave the state, arguing the priest has “adequate reason” to go into hiding and refuse to return to Wisconsin.

Feeney, who was arrested in Los Angeles in September, is free on $100,000 cash bail but terms of the bail forbid him from leaving the state without court permission.

In refusing to dismiss the charges Monday, Figy rejected defense arguments that charging the priest now was “fundamentally unfair” because Outagamie County prosecutors reviewed the allegations against him in 1979 and decided not to file charges.

But Figy said state law makes it clear prosecutors have “great discretion in deciding whether to prosecute.”

Court documents show Feeney worked in 18 parishes over 30 years in the Green Bay diocese before leaving Wisconsin in 1983 amid numerous allegations of sexual misconduct with adolescent boys.

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