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Archdiocese, investigating abuse of Foley, apologizes

Naked encounters a priest described were "reprehensible," it declares.

Published October 21, 2006


WEST PALM BEACH - The Archdiocese of Miami on Friday barred a retired Catholic priest from all church work as it investigates former Rep. Mark Foley's claim that the clergyman molested him as a teenager.

The Rev. Anthony Mercieca, 69, now lives in Malta, and a diocese there is also investigating after he said this week that he and Foley were nude together a number of times in the 1960s when Foley was a boy.

"Such behavior is morally reprehensible, canonically criminal and inexcusable," the Miami archdiocese said in a statement.

The archdiocese said it knows of no other allegations against Mercieca. Spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said pastors at eight South Florida churches Mercieca served from 1965 to 2002 have been told to ask parishioners about possible other victims.

Foley, 52, R-Fort Pierce, resigned from Congress last month after the disclosure of sexually explicit computer messages he sent to teenage male pages. His lawyers later said Foley was an alcoholic, gay and had been molested as a boy by a clergyman. He entered a 30-day rehabilitation program for alcoholism on Oct. 1, his lawyers said.

Agosta said Foley should give church officials more specific information to aid in the investigation. She said if the allegations are true, Mercieca could be forced from the priesthood.

"An apology is due to Mr. Foley for the hurt he has experienced," the archdiocese's statement read. "While it was long in coming, with God's merciful grace this painful revelation can be the beginning of reconciliation and an instrument of redemption and healing for Mr. Foley."

Foley's civil attorney, Gerald Richman, said he did not know if Foley would cooperate in the investigation.

"You can't predict what's going to happen when he gets out of treatment," Richman said. "There's no immediate plan. His No. 1 thing is just going through treatment right now."

In interviews, Mercieca, who lives on the Maltese island of Gozo, denied having sexual intercourse with Foley, but gave varying details on their encounters.

He told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune by telephone that he massaged the boy in the nude, was naked with him on overnight trips and had gone skinny-dipping with him. He told the Associated Press he was naked in a sauna with Foley.

He told WPTV of West Palm Beach in a phone interview that he touched Foley "once, maybe."

"It's not something you call, I mean, rape or penetration or anything like that, you know," he said. "It was just fondling."

Mercieca worked at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Lake Worth in 1967, according to church records, when Foley was 13. Foley's attorneys have said the abuse occurred when Foley was between 13 and 15.

A spokesman for the State Attorney's Office in West Palm Beach, Mike Edmondson, said criminal prosecution of the priest is unlikely unless other alleged victims come forward. Foley's attorneys have said he doesn't want to prosecute.

A spokesman for the diocese of Gozo said it is also investigating Mercieca. But Charles Buttigieg, speaking for the archdiocese of Malta, said Friday he was not aware of any other complaints.

Mercieca, a Maltese citizen, is retired and does not serve in any parish on the island, the diocese spokesman told the AP. However, he regularly celebrates Mass and hears confessions in one of two main churches on the island.

[Last modified October 21, 2006, 08:10:25]

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