Miami Church Settles Fr Mercieca Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

By Alfred Grixti, Kurt Farrugia, David Vella
Malta Star
July 19, 2007

Malta — Fr Anthony Mercieca, the 72-year-old Gozitan priest, has once again made headlines after one of the alleged victims of the priest obtained an out of court settlement on a sexual abuse lawsuit against the church in Miami.

Fr Mercieca, who spent years working in a Miami parish, was involved in the scandal of former US congressman Mark Foley, revealed in October 2006. The Republican politician was being investigated for sending sexually explicit e-mails to teenage males working at the Congress House. Foley's lawyer had defended his client by claiming that Fr Mercieca had abused him when he was an altar boy at his same parish.

Victim claimed Lm3.1 million in damages

A month after Foley's revelations, another American man, who was also an altar boy at St James Church in North Miami, filed a lawsuit, requesting $10 million (Lm3.1 million/Euro 7.2 million) in compensation for sexual abuse in a church. The victim, whose identity was not revealed, claimed that in the 1970s, when he was 13 years old, Mr Mercieca took him "on a bicycle ride, and afterwards molested him in the church's bell tower".

A spokesperson for the Gozo Curia told that the Gozo Diocese is not in any way involved in this settlement since, technically, Fr Mercieca although now retired and living in Gozo is tied, "incardinated" with the Archdiocese of Miami. It will be this entity which will be making the financial outlay to honour this settlment.

The Gozo Curia spokesman addedd that when the case broke out last year, His Grace Monsignor Mario Grech, the Bishop of Gozo, had set up a response team to investigate Fr Mercieca only as a precaution to find out if any misdemeanours had occured locally. The spokesman contiuned that as soon as the Archdiocese of Miami launched its investigation, which also covered Fr Mercieca's activity in Gozo, the Gozo Diocese's inquiry was halted.

Jeffrey Herman, the victim's lawyer, did not disclose the amount of compensation his client will be receiving from the Archdiocese of Miami, as part of the settlement agreement.

The lawsuit is one of a number of sexual abuses cases against the Archdiocese of Miami, in which at least six other Roman Catholic priests are involved.

Foley's case

Last October, Fr Mercieca had admitted to US newspapers that he had massaged Mark Foley, in the nude, and occasionally swam naked with the boy in a secluded lake. The priest also admitted being naked with the boy during overnight trips they had during their two year relationship. The priest denied ever having a sexual relationship with the boy, but admitted that certain acts may have been perceived as sexually inappropriate.

The alleged intimate contacts took place between 1966 and 1967, when the priest served at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Lake Worth, Florida, and the former congressman was an altar boy.

The priest also talked of one night, when he was under the influence of tranquilisers and alcohol. During that night, the priest admitted that he "might have gone too far", but he did not remember anything, he told Serasota Herald Tribune. "I have to confess, I was going through a nervous breakdown…I was taking pills…I used to take them all the time. They affected my mind a little bit."

The priest was also quoted as saying that he taught Foley "some wrong things" related to sex. He also confessed that they were "naked together in a sauna twice".

Yet, the former Republican congressman had publicly claimed that he would not be pressing charges against Fr Mercieca, but his lawyers had appealed to anyone who had any inappropriate contacts with the priest, to come out and speak.


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