|U.S. Rep. Mark Foley Reveals the Demons He Faced after Being Abused in Church As a Child
By Mark Hollis
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
November 12, 2008
Former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley says in an exclusive interview airing today on WPTV-Ch. 5 that he wishes he had "confronted those demons" of sexual abuse suffered as a child before launching a political career that collapsed amid national scrutiny of his private life.
The Palm Beach County Republican served in Washington, Tallahassee and Lake Worth for nearly three decades until his resignation from Congress in 2006 after news reports of his sexually explicit online chats with congressional pages.
"Torturous. Difficult. Embarrassing. I don't know how many adjectives I can throw at you to quantify what has been the experience," Foley said of the emotional fallout of his political scandal — a disgrace that presaged the defeat of other congressional incumbents in the 2006 elections.
Foley has ended a two-year boycott of the media by telling news anchor Roxanne Stein that he struggled for decades to face childhood abuse by a Catholic priest. He says he is embarrassed by the illicit electronic messages he sent congressional pages, but he strongly denies being a pedophile.
He says it took him time to become comfortable telling others that he is gay.
"No question, you don't let people in your life," he said of keeping his sexual orientation a secret for years. "And that, again, is another attempt to conceal the real you. And that's part of the problem in politics. They don't accept people for who they are. But I think if I could have been more open about my life, it would have helped."
When Foley resigned from Congress in the fall of 2006, his West Palm Beach attorney, David Roth, revealed that Foley was molested by a clergyman between the ages of 13 and 15. He also said that he was recovering from alcohol abuse. "Everything David Roth said that day was true despite the fact that so many people said that we were making it up to save my political seat," Foley said.
Foley, 51 and now involved in a real estate business based in Palm Beach, contends that much of his life has been shaped by the abuse he encountered.
"When I was 12, I was abused," he said while wiping tears from his cheeks. "So, I recognized that pain, that suffering. I wish I had confronted those demons. But there was a lot of hesitation because my parents had such deep faith. I didn't want to let them down. I didn't want to let them believe that a man of God could have done this to [their] son. So, you keep this inside yourself. You hide it from everyone."
With his voice cracking with emotion, Foley added: "Because you feel like it may have been my fault. You try your best to move forward, ignoring that it happened. When you're 12 years old, a priest is telling you: 'This is healthy. This is good. If you tell anybody, I'll kill myself.' Your life is instantly changed. Doesn't make it right. I regret to this day that incident and what I've done. But I can't change history."
Foley tells Stein about the instant messages he sent while a member of Congress that prompted state and federal criminal investigations, which closed in September without the filing of any criminal charges.
"I could never say the words that were on those texts to people in person," Foley said. "By God, by no way could I mouth those words."
He says that at the time of sending them, they didn't seem wrong.
"Did I think it was wrong at the time? No. You don't sit there and think things are wrong. It's a conversation. You're deluded into thinking this is a conversation. In the back of your mind, you know it's wrong. But when you've never confronted those very demons …" he said.
Stein asked Foley why he didn't allow federal investigators to review his congressional computers. He said it was because there is "legislatively protected materials" and "constituent information" on the machines that involve constituents' "personal lives."
Throughout the interview, conducted at his West Palm Beach office and briefly outdoors while walking dogs near his Palm Beach home, Foley expresses embarrassment and regret. He says he sympathizes with his political successor, U.S. Rep. Tim Mahoney, the Democrat who took over the 16th Congressional District seat and lost re-election this month following revelations of his own sex scandal involving multiple extramarital affairs.
"Watching Tim was not anything that made me say, 'YippieYippee- i -oh. He got what he deserved,'" Foley said. "It was another person to fall short of expectation. Another person wrestling with some demons. There is a reason for some of the behavior. It is not for me to sit here and have a pity party or a celebration."
Mark Hollis can be reached at mhollis@SunSentinel.com or 561-228-5512.
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