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Retired Priest Admits Encounters With Foley

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By Howard Schneider and Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, October 20, 2006

A retired priest from Malta acknowledged yesterday that he had intimate contact with a young Mark Foley that involved nudity and -- on at least one occasion -- "light touching," but he denied that he and Foley had "sexual intercourse."

The Rev. Anthony Mercieca, in a telephone interview from the Maltese island of Gozo, said he was surprised that his long-ago interaction with Foley had become linked to the scandal that erupted last month and cost the former congressman his job.

Foley, who served as an altar boy at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Lake Worth, Fla., when Mercieca was assigned there in the mid-1960s, resigned from Congress after reports about sexually intimate electronic messages he had sent to congressional pages. After his resignation, Foley entered alcohol rehabilitation, said he was gay and alleged that he had been sexually abused by a member of the clergy as a youth.

Yesterday, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, citing confidential sources close to Foley's family, identified Mercieca as the priest in question.

A source familiar with details of Foley's allegations confirmed yesterday that Mercieca is the priest that Foley has told investigators abused him.

Church officials have encouraged Foley to name the priest who allegedly abused him, and Foley turned that information over to law enforcement authorities yesterday, wire services reported. A statement issued by the Archdiocese of Miami yesterday morning said church officials believe the name had been given to the Palm Beach County state's attorney on Wednesday but added that the state's attorney's office had not revealed the information to the church.

The statement said the archdiocese would publicize the name of the priest once it receives it, "per our policy relating to the protection of children and vulnerable adults."

Mercieca, 69, told The Washington Post that issues such as molestation and sexual harassment are "in the eye of the beholder," and that Foley -- who was 12 or 13 at the time -- might have interpreted some of their contact "the wrong way."

During at least one encounter with Foley, "I was a little out of myself," Mercieca said, from using tranquilizers as a result of what the Sarasota paper described as a nervous breakdown. "The whole idea is . . . that I did something that he did not like, but at the time he did not say anything."

"It was not what you call intercourse. . . . There was no rape or anything. . . . Maybe light touches here or there," he said.

Mercieca said he could not explain why Foley might be attributing his broader problems to their contact.

"We had some kind of friendship. I was very friendly with him and his family," Mercieca said. "Then almost 40 years passed without him saying anything. . . . And now because he got caught, he recited these things."

An employee at the law firm that is representing Foley said his attorney, Gerald F. Richman, had no comment on Mercieca. Mercieca said he did not expect to be sued or prosecuted criminally over his ties to Foley. For criminal cases, the statute of limitations has expired.

Mark Serrano, a board member of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, encouraged a full investigation, including whether he had similar involvement with other minors, and whether any allegations had been reported to church officials.

"A crime is a crime is a crime," Serrano said. "Advanced age is no indication that kids are safe from a perpetrator. . . . An investigation would be required."

Staff writer Peter Whoriskey in Miami contributed to this report.


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