Paper Names Priest Accused of Foley Abuse; Church Not Yet Notified

Catholic News Service
October 19, 2006

Miami (CNS) -- Although the Archdiocese of Miami had not yet been given the name of the priest who allegedly abused former Congressman Mark Foley some 40 years ago, a Florida newspaper has identified the priest as Father Anthony Mercieca, 72, who now lives on the Maltese island of Gozo.

Father Mercieca, who served for 38 years in the Archdiocese of Miami, said in an interview with the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald Tribune that he and Foley "loved each other like brothers" when the priest was assigned to Sacred Heart Parish in Lake Worth in the late 1960s.

Although the priest said he was never accused of sex abuse in any of the seven U.S. parishes where he served, he admitted that some of his behavior with Foley might have been considered sexually inappropriate. He said the two had been naked together on overnight trips and skinny-dipped in a Lake Worth lake and that the priest had given massages to a naked Foley when the former congressman was in his early teens.

In a later interview with The Associated Press, however, Father Mercieca said the Herald Tribune story was "exaggerated" and that his relationship with Foley was never sexual.

Mary Ross Agosta, communications director of the Archdiocese of Miami, said in an Oct. 19 statement that although Foley's attorney had reportedly revealed the name of the ex-congressman's alleged abuser to the Palm Beach County state attorney's office Oct. 18, the name had not yet been disclosed to the archdiocese.

"Once the state attorney concludes its investigation and/or releases the name of the alleged abuser to the archdiocese, it is our intention to make the name public per our policy relating to the protection of children and vulnerable adults," said Ross Agosta, who also directs the Safe Environment Program for the archdiocese.

The statement also said the archdiocese prays that Foley "realizes he is not alone in his journey to recovery; the Holy Spirit is his guiding light." It encouraged any victim of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy or church employee to report the abuse to the archdiocese and local law enforcement.

According to the Herald Tribune, Father Mercieca came to Florida from Brazil in the mid-1960s and was first assigned to Sacred Heart Parish, which is now in the Palm Beach Diocese. Foley was 12-13 years old and an altar boy at Sacred Heart when the priest served there in 1966 and 1967.

Other parishes where Father Mercieca served, according to the Florida newspaper, were: St. Coleman in Pompano Beach, 1970-73; Sacred Heart in Homestead, 1974-75; St. James in North Miami, 1977-82; St. Ambrose in Deerfield Beach, 1985-87; St. Henry in Pompano Beach, 1987-93; and Blessed Trinity in Miami Springs, 1993-2003.

According to the Official Catholic Directory, Father Mercieca retired in 2004. The Web site of the Diocese of Gozo lists him as a priest there and says he was ordained Sept. 30, 1962. He grew up on Gozo and worked for some years in Brazil.

Foley, a Republican who had represented Florida's 16th district in the House since 1994, resigned his seat Sept. 29 following reports that he had sent sexually explicit e-mails and text messages to House pages who were minors.

Attorney David Roth said at a West Palm Beach news conference Oct. 3 that Foley wanted to name the person who had molested him when he was 13 to 15 years old, but was advised not to until he completed a 30-day treatment plan for alcoholism and mental health issues.

"I cannot comment on whether the clergyman was a priest, a minister, an imam or a rabbi," Roth said.

But Gerald Richman, another attorney for Foley, said Oct. 17 that the alleged abuser was a priest and is still living.

"We have confidence the Catholic Church will appropriately deal with this issue," Richman said. "We are doing the best thing that we possibly can, which is to make sure that it comes out to the archdiocese and hopefully, ultimately, publicly, but it is going to be up to the archdiocese on how to deal with it."

Richman also said he had talked with Barry Krischer, Palm Beach County state attorney, "and we've basically concluded that there's no basis to file criminal charges because of a number of legal obstacles."

A lifelong Catholic, Foley served as an altar boy at Sacred Heart in Lake Worth and attended Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach until transferring to Lake Worth Community High School in 1971.


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