Priest Details Relationship With Foley

Admits To Sitting In Saunas, Giving Massages To Ex-Congressman; Wonders Why He's Upset

CBS News/October 19, 2006

A Roman Catholic priest admitted to sitting in saunas and giving massages to former Rep. Mark Foley when he was a 13-year-old altar boy in Lake Worth, Fla.

The priest, Rev. Anthony Mercieca, detailed his relationship with Foley, who resigned from office last month because of inappropriate e-mails with a congressional page, during a phone interview with CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric.

Mercieca, now 69 and living in Malta, refuted a Sarasota Herald-Tribune report that said he had a sexual relationship with Foley. Instead, Mercieca told Couric, "We used to do, like the athletes, you know; he'll stay with his towel on and go on the bench and I will massage his neck and his back."

However, this account contradicts an interview Mercieca gave to The Associated Press in Rome.

"We were friends and trusted each other as brothers and loved each other as brothers," he said. Mercieca added that the two would be naked in saunas.

"Everybody does that," Mercieca said when asked if that wasn't unusual behavior for a priest and a young boy.

Among the encounters Mercieca had with Foley, he told Couric of one during which Merceica says he took so many pills that something might have happened he can't recall.

Mercieca said he took pills and alcohol and when asked what happened, replied, "That's what I can't remember.

"And I guess that's what maybe Mark is thinking that was something bad," Mercieca said. Mercieca told the AP that the pills were medication for a nervous breakdown.

The priest, who works at a church in Gozo in Malta, did not understand why Foley raised allegations of abuse. "For 40 years it didn't bother him, now how come it bothers him?" he asked Couric.

Mercieca had worked at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Lake Worth, Fla., in 1967, according to church records. Foley would have been 13 at the time.

A spokesman for the state attorney's office in West Palm Beach, Fla., Mike Edmondson, said that an e-mail from Foley's attorney was received late Wednesday night identifying the alleged abuser. He said the e-mail was being forwarded to the archdiocese of Miami on Thursday.

Edmundson said law enforcement action ends here, unless other alleged victims come forward, because Foley's attorneys have said that the politician doesn't want to prosecute.

Archdiocese of Miami spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta declined to comment Thursday about Mercieca "until we receive the name ourselves." Agosta said she was frustrated with the way Foley's attorneys had handled the matter.

Foley's civil lawyer, Gerald Richman, previously said the priest was still alive but that the statute of limitations for criminal charges had expired in Foley's case.

Foley resigned from Congress last month after his sexually explicit e-mails to young male pages surfaced. His lawyer said shortly after the resignation that Foley had been molested as a boy by a "clergyman." Richman said the alleged abuser was a Catholic priest whose name he shared with state prosecutors on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, Foley's criminal defense lawyer David Roth said, "Mark does not blame the trauma he sustained as a young adolescent for his totally inappropriate" e-mails and instant messages. "He continues to offer no excuse whatsoever for his conduct."

Referring to the e-mail scandal, the priest said, "I don't think there was a connection with our friendship and this thing now."

Mercieca brushed off other questions, saying he didn't remember much. There was often a long pause before he replied to questions.

He said the last time he saw Foley was about 18 years ago when the two had dinner in a restaurant in Lake Worth.

The priest contended that there had been no allegations of sexual abuse against him in the many parishes he was assigned to in Florida.

On Gozo, Mercieca lives in a house with his brother, George, who is also a priest.

About 62 miles south of the Italian island of Sicily, Gozo, with a population of about 25,000, is one of Malta's three inhabited islands. It is filled with vacation homes and holiday resorts.

Malta, a Mediterranean nation, is predominantly Roman Catholic.

Three years ago, a priest-sex abuse scandal shook the tiny nation. Four young men said they were sexually abused by priests while they lived at a children's home. The Maltese archdiocese, which instituted a response team in 1999 to deal with any sexual abuse allegations, probed the scandal along with police.

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