Fr. Anthony Mercieca

Father Mercieca
and Congressman Mark Foley


Story from New York Times:

[Few clearer witnesses can be found to the deranged ethos of an aberrational era  than the rationalizations offered by Father Mercieca for his sexually-abusive relationship with former-congressman Mark Foley in 1966-1967]


The New York Times, October 19, 2006 [Washington], By MATTHEW DOIG and MAURICE TAMMAN Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Published: October 19, 2006

A CATHOLIC priest told The Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Wednesday that he had an intimate two-year relationship with former Representative Mark Foley of south Florida when Mr. Foley was a teenage altar boy.

Fr. Mercieca Congressman Mark Foley

Mr. Foley resigned from Congress last month after his suggestive electronic messages to young male pages surfaced. Soon after, he said he was an alcoholic and said he had been molested as a boy by a clergyman.

From his home on the island of Gozo, a part of Malta off the Italian coast, the priest, Anthony Mercieca, described a series of encounters that he said Mr. Foley might have perceived as sexually inappropriate. Among them: massaging Mr. Foley while the boy [age 13]was naked, skinny-dipping with him at a secluded lake and being naked in the same room on overnight trips.

Father Mercieca said he was in a drug-induced stupor one night and cannot clearly remember what happened but that it may also have been inappropriate.

“I have to confess, I was going through a nervous breakdown,” he said. “I was taking pills — tranquilizers. I used to take them all the time. They affected my mind a little bit.”

Father Mercieca’s description of his relationship with Mr. Foley is similar to details provided to The Herald-Tribune by people close to Mr. Foley’s family. Those people, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Father Mercieca is the priest who Mr. Foley has claimed sexually abused him.

On Tuesday, Mr. Foley’s lawyer, Gerald Richman, told reporters that the purported abuser was a Catholic priest whose name he planned to share with church officials this week. He and another lawyer for Mr. Foley, David Roth, refused further comment.

In 1966 and 1967, when Father Mercieca served as a priest at Sacred Hearth Catholic Church in Lake Worth, Fla., Mr. Foley was an altar boy there and attended the parish school. The Foleys were active members of the congregation. Father Mercieca, 72, told The Herald-Tribune that he and Mr. Foley became fast friends when Father Mercieca moved from Brazil to Florida in 1966 and “loved each other like brothers.”

Father Mercieca said he taught Mr. Foley “some wrong things” related to sex, though he wouldn’t specify what he meant. He also said they were naked together in a sauna twice.

Father Mercieca said that, at the time, he considered his relationship with Mr. Foley innocent. But he now says he sees that his actions may have been inappropriate.

Father Mercieca said his encounter with Mr. Foley was an aberration, and that the Catholic Church never had to send him for counseling during his 38 years in the priesthood in Florida.

“I have been in many parishes, and I have never been” accused, he said.

As of midday today, neither Mr. Foley’s lawyer nor the Archdiocese of Miami had released the name of the priest that Mr. Foley says abused him.

Michael Edmondson, a spokesman for the Florida state attorney’s office in Palm Beach, said that Mr. Foley’s lawyer was expected to submit the name, but that it had not arrived when the office closed Wednesday.

Father Mercieca said that during his two years in Lake Worth he ate dinners with Mr. Foley’s family and that Mr. Foley’s grandmother “was delighted to see me all the time.”

Father Mercieca said he was confused about why Mr. Foley had decided to come forward after almost 40 years.

“Why does he want to destroy me in my old age?” Father Mercieca asked.

Jon Ombres, 52, a former altar boy at Sacred Heart Church with Mr. Foley in the 1960’s, said he and Mr. Foley were close friends until eighth grade.

Mr. Ombres said that he and Mr. Foley spent many Sunday afternoons with the priest, but that he was never propositioned and did not know of any intimate contact between Mr. Foley and Father Mercieca.

“He took us to the movies and would tell us to call him ‘Tony.’ He taught us to drive in his ‘57 Chevy,” Mr. Ombres said. “He taught us to drive a stick-shift in a light-blue Volkswagen, driving around the church parking lot.”

Bob Mahlburg and Tom Lyons of The Sarasota Herald-Tribune contributed to this report.

MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- A priest whom former Rep. Mark Foley reportedly accused of molestation almost four decades ago said Thursday that he fondled the lawmaker as a teen, but the priest said it wasn’t abuse because Foley “seemed to like it.”

“Once maybe I touched him or so, but didn’t, it wasn’t -- because it’s not something you call, I mean, rape or penetration or anything like that you know. We were just fondling,” Father Anthony Mercieca, 69, said in a phone interview with CNN affiliate WPTV from his home on the Maltese island of Gozo in the Mediterranean.

Mercieca earlier told The Associated Press that a Florida newspaper “exaggerated” the inappropriateness of his and Foley’s relationship.

“He seemed to like it, you know? So it was sort of more like a spontaneous thing,” Mercieca told WPTV, a West Palm Beach, Florida, station.

Mercieca, however, rejected the idea that he sexually abused Foley, saying, “See abuse, it’s a bad word, you know, because abuse, you abuse someone against his will. But it involved just spontaneousness, you know?”

The priest also questioned the timing of Foley’s allegations against him, suggesting the six-term congressman only recently became bothered by their relationship.

“Let’s say it was 40 years ago, almost 40 years ago, so why bring this up at this late stage?” Mercieca asked. “Anyway, he will overcome it, with a psychiatrist you know. Mark is a very intelligent man.”

Mercieca said he and the teen Foley were friends, “almost like brothers,” and they went on trips together to the beach, rodeo and arcade. They also went out of town together to New York and Washington, where they visited museums.

Sources close to the investigation told CNN that Foley had named Mercieca as his abuser.

‘Let bygones be bygones’

Mercieca apologized to Foley but implored the former lawmaker to remember the fun they had together.

“I would say that if I offended him, I am sorry, but to remember the good time we had together, you know?” he said. “And how really we enjoyed each other’s company. And to let bygones be bygones. Don’t keep dwelling on this thing, you know?”

Mercieca worked at Sacred Heart Church in Lake Worth, Florida, in the mid-1960s, which is about the time Foley alleged the abuse occurred, a source said.

Foley, 52, has said through attorney David Roth that he was molested by a priest when he was between the ages of 13 and 15, which would have been between 1967 and 1969. Foley was an altar boy at Sacred Heart, CNN has confirmed.

The allegation came after Foley resigned on September 29 as details of his sexually explicit instant messages to teen congressional pages became public.

Roth also told reporters at the time that Foley had entered a rehabilitation facility for alcoholism and that he was gay.

The Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Florida, reported Wednesday that Mercieca -- in an interview from his island home -- conceded there were encounters that Foley could perceive to be sexually inappropriate. (Watch what the priest told the newspaper about his and Foley’s relationship -- 3:05 )

Mercieca recalled for the newspaper massaging Foley while the teen was naked, skinny-dipping with Foley at a secluded lake in Lake Worth and being naked in the same room with him on overnight trips, according to the Herald-Tribune.

Mercieca also told the newspaper about an incident he couldn’t remember because he had been taking tranquilizers when he “was going through a nervous breakdown.”

“I used to take them all the time. They affected my mind a little bit,” he said, according to the newspaper.

He reiterated that claim during interviews with WPTV and CNN’s “Paula Zahn Now.” But he told the station, “We didn’t do anything dirty ourselves, you know.”

According to the AP, which spoke to Mercieca by phone, the priest called the Herald-Tribune article “exaggerated” and said his and Foley’s relationship was not sexual.

Matthew Doig, the Herald-Tribune reporter who interviewed Mercieca, told CNN’s “American Morning” that Mercieca acknowledged having an inappropriate relationship with Foley, but said there was only one incident that would fit Foley’s allegations.

“They went skinny-dipping together, the father talked about naked back massages, that type of thing,” Doig said. “But again, nothing beyond that. But he said at some point there was an incident between the two of them that he blamed on tranquilizers and alcohol that probably led to the moment that Mark Foley is talking about.”

Mercieca told Doig that he was taking the tranquilizers because he was going through a nervous breakdown after moving from Brazil to Florida, Doig said.

“He said he was having a nervous breakdown. That was pretty much what he was blaming it on,” Doig said. “He was adamant that this was a one-time incident. In fact, our second source close to the Foley family had described it to us before that as a one-time incident.”

Still a priest

The Herald-Tribune report quoted Mercieca as saying the encounter was an aberration and that he has never been accused of sexual misconduct during his decades in the priesthood.

A Web site for the Diocese of Gozo lists Mercieca as one of its priests.

Neither Roth nor Foley’s civil attorney, Gerald Richman, had any comment on the revelation of the priest’s name or the newspaper interview.

On Tuesday, Richman said Foley would not press charges against the clergyman because of the statute of limitations. Richman also said Foley had accepted an offer of counseling from the Miami Archdiocese.

The Palm Beach County state attorney’s office says it cannot conduct an investigation because Foley has declined to press charges.

The Miami Archdiocese released a statement Thursday saying it received the name of Foley’s alleged abuser from the state attorney’s office but is waiting for the go-ahead to release it.

“The archdiocese has contacted the office of the state attorney to ask for their permission to release the name of the alleged abuser to the public,” the statement says. “Once we have official confirmation of the name and permission from the state attorney the archdiocese will inform the public immediately.”

Anyone who has been the victim of sexual abuse by clergy or church personnel should contact the archdiocese’s victim’s assistance coordinator at 1-866-802-2873, the statement said.

A Vatican spokesman said that if Foley’s allegations are true, “we participate in the pain that this deplorable situation has caused.”

“We trust in the competent ecclestial authorities to investigate and clarify the events that have been reported,” said Father Federico Lombardi.

CNN’s Susan Candiotti and Delia Gallagher contributed to this report.



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