Gozo priest implicated in third sex abuse case in Miami

Times of Malta/October 21, 2008

An elderly Gozitan priest who has been involved in two sex scandals in the US has now been implicated in a third case, this time involving a 15-year-old boy in Miami.

Court officials are expected to travel to Malta next spring to take his deposition.

Jeffrey Herman, the lawyer who is representing the alleged victim, filed a lawsuit in the Miami-Dade Circuit Court against the Archdiocese of Miami claiming it allowed Fr Anthony Mercieca, a retired priest of the Archdiocese, to sexually abuse the boy in 1977.

Fr Mercieca, who is in his 70s and resides in Gozo, was at the time stationed at St James church in north Miami.

"The law suit is against the Archdiocese and we allege that they were aware Fr Mercieca was abusing boys. Even though the case is against the Archdiocese, and Fr Mercieca is (now) in Malta, we intend to come to Malta to take his deposition in March or April," Mr Herman told The Times when contacted at his Miami office.

"In this case, this man alleges that, when he was a boy, he went to St James church for confession and met Fr Mercieca. He is alleging that, in the confessional, Fr Mercieca started to touch him and began sexual abuse that went on for years," Mr Herman added.

Fr Mercieca first came to the attention of the media in October 2006 when he acknowledged having inappropriate encounters with disgraced US Congressman Mark Foley. The priest admitted he had had encounters, which Mr Foley may have perceived as sexually inappropriate, 40 years ago.

After the Foley case made world headlines, the Archdiocese had asked any possible victims of inappropriate behaviour or abuse by the priest to come forward or contact a law enforcement agency. Within days, a second American made similar claims.

The man, also represented by Mr Herman, claimed that Fr Mercieca molested him in the church bell tower in north Miami after a bicycle ride together when he was 13 in the 1970s. This case has been settled out of court.

Reacting to this new suit, on Thursday the Archdiocese of Miami released a statement where it outlined that Fr Mercieca's faculties were removed in October 2006 after he was accused by Mr Foley.

"A priest without faculties cannot perform or dress as a priest. The Archdiocese of Miami's policies clearly outline how it deals with such allegations when Church clergy, employees or volunteers are accused of such crimes.

"All claims of sexual abuse are reported to the State Attorney's office, an offer of pastoral and psychological counselling is made to the alleged victim and the Archdiocese's Review Board conducts a review of the allegations while respecting any investigation by state authorities," the Archdiocese said.

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