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Priest Admits Possibly `Fondling' Foley in 1960s

Now retired in Malta, he was about 30 and the disgraced congressman about 13 when they had a close relationship in Florida, he says.

October 20, 2006|Scott Travis | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

FORT LAUDERDALE — The scandal involving former Rep. Mark Foley has stretched across the Atlantic to the tiny Maltese island of Gozo, home to the priest alleged to have molested Foley 40 years ago.

The bishop of the Diocese of Gozo said Thursday that an investigation would be conducted into allegations that Father Anthony Mercieca, formerly of South Florida, sexually abused Foley in the 1960s. Mercieca was a priest and Foley an altar boy at Sacred Heart Parish in Lake Worth in 1966 and 1967.

The Archdiocese of Miami declined to confirm the name that Foley's attorneys revealed Thursday to the state attorney's office in Palm Beach County.

Foley, 52, a Republican from Fort Pierce, resigned from Congress last month after his sexually explicit e-mails to young male pages surfaced. The scandal has rocked Capitol Hill and led to accusations of cover-ups. The fallout from it could play out in next month's elections.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 21, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 63 words Type of Material: Correction
Priest admits fondling: An article in Friday's Section A about a priest admitting fondling former Rep. Mark Foley as a boy appeared with a photo of a man identified as the priest, Father Anthony Mercieca. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, which was the source of the photo, says it was not of Mercieca but of a librarian taken from the Gozo Cathedral Public Library website.

Foley's lawyer announced shortly after his resignation that Foley was alcoholic and had gone to a rehabilitation center. He also acknowledged that Foley was gay and said that Foley had been molested as a boy by a "clergyman."

Mercieca, 69, told reporters Thursday that he had had a close, sibling-like relationship with Foley when he was a priest of about 30 and Foley was about 13. The two skinny-dipped and sat naked in saunas and in hotel rooms on overnight trips, the priest said.

Mercieca admitted possibly "fondling" Foley on at least one occasion but denied the two had sex.

"We were friends and trusted each other as brothers and loved each other as brothers," Mercieca said.

He told WPTV that he may have touched Foley once. "It's not something you'd call rape or penetration or anything like that. It was just fondling. It was sort of like a spontaneous thing." Mercieca said that at the time, he was going through "a nervous breakdown." He said he was "taking some pills and alcohol, and maybe I did something that he didn't like."

He said the last time he saw Foley was about 18 years ago when the two had dinner in a restaurant in Lake Worth.

Foley "seems to have interpreted certain things as inappropriate.... I don't know what I did to him," the priest said. "I wonder why 40 years later he brought this up?"

David Clohessy, director of the Chicago-based Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said Mercieca's statements were typical of abusers. "It's classic pedophile behavior: minimizing, blame-shifting, excuse-making. We'd be fools to think that either he or Foley have fully disclosed the extent or frequency or harm of the crimes. Virtually no criminal, least of all a child molester, comes clean right from the start."

Officials from the Gozo diocese said they were surprised to hear reports of an improper relationship.

"He's been a good priest. We haven't had any complaints about him," said Edward Zammit, personal assistant to Gozo Bishop Mario Grech.

Zammit said Mercieca was retired and no longer oversaw a church.

In a statement, the diocese said the bishop would instruct a response team to investigate and present a report. The statement didn't say how long the investigation would take.

"Bishop Grech, conscious of the gravity of pedophilia, reiterates that he will cooperate with those responsible for investigating such cases so that justice is done to the victims, the perpetrators are reformed, and the common good is safeguarded," the statement said.

Foley's civil lawyer, Gerald Richman, said Foley did not plan to pursue criminal charges, and said they concluded their role by turning the matter over to State Atty. Barry E. Krischer.

Mike Edmondson, a spokesman for Krischer, said the office would only pursue a case if another alleged victim came forward. Any investigation would be handled by the law enforcement agency in the jurisdiction where the alleged crime occurred, he said.

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