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Priest who says
he fondled Foley will be investigated by his diocese

Priest who says
he fondled Foley will be investigated by his diocese

Mark_foley_02_3

The diocese of Gozo said it was opening an investigation after a Roman Catholic priest on the Maltese island said he fondled Mark Foley and was naked in saunas with the former U.S. congressman when he was a boy in Florida.

The diocese of Gozo said it was opening an investigation after a Roman Catholic priest on the Maltese island said he fondled Mark Foley and was naked in saunas with the former U.S. congressman when he was a boy in Florida. A statement from the diocese of Gozo, a small Mediterranean island off Malta, said that its bishop, Mario Grech, contacted the Archdiocese of Miami on Thursday evening seeking further information about the case. The statement, issued late Thursday, said the diocese had learned of the case for the first time in the international press. ''In the light of all this ... Bishop Grech will instruct the response team to investigate these allegations according to the policies established by the Maltese Ecclesiastical Province with regards to cases of sexual abuse in pastoral activity,'' the statement said. ''Grech will pass all information he receives pertaining to this case to the response team as he has done in similar cases.'' The Maltese Church instituted the team in 1999 to deal with any sexual abuse allegations. The statement said the team would present the bishop with a report, and that Grech promised to cooperate. It did not say whether Mercieca was still serving as a priest on Gozo, where he regularly hears confession and celebrates Mass in the cathedral, one of two main churches on the Mediterranean island. It also did not say whether it would investigate anything other than Mercieca's recent statements about Foley. Gozo, 60 miles south of Sicily, has a population of about 32,000 and is one of Malta's three inhabited islands, filled with vacation homes and holiday resorts. ''Bishop Grech, conscious of the gravity of pedophilia, reiterates that he will cooperate with those responsible for investigating such cases so that justice is done to the victims, the perpetrators are reformed, and the common good is safeguarded,'' the statement said. The Reverend Anthony Mercieca, 69, acknowledged on Thursday that he fondled Foley decades ago when Foley was a boy in Florida, according to a report by CNN. "Once maybe I touched him or so, but didn't, it wasn't--because it's not something you call, I mean, rape or penetration or anything like that, you know. We were just fondling," Mercieca, 69, said in a phone interview with CNN affiliate WPTV from his home on Gozo.

Mercieca earlier told the Associated Press that a Florida newspaper "exaggerated" the inappropriateness of his and Foley's relationship.

"He seemed to like it, you know? So it was sort of more like a spontaneous thing," Mercieca told WPTV, a West Palm Beach, Fla., station, rejecting Foley's allegations of sexual abuse. "See, 'abuse,' it's a bad word, you know, because abuse, you abuse someone against his will. But it involved just spontaneousness, you know?"

Mercieca went on to say that he and the teen Foley were friends, "almost like brothers," and they went on trips together to the beach, rodeo, and arcade, according to CNN. They also went out of town together to New York and Washington, D.C., where they visited museums. "I would say that if I offended him, I am sorry, but to remember the good time we had together, you know?" Mercieca said. "And how really we enjoyed each other's company. And to let bygones be bygones. Don't keep dwelling on this thing, you know?"

Mercieca worked at Sacred Heart Church in Lake Worth, Fla., in the mid 1960s, which is about the time Foley alleged the abuse occurred, a source told CNN. Foley, 52, has said through attorney David Roth that he was molested by a priest when he was between the ages of 13 and 15, which would have been between 1967 and 1969. Foley was an altar boy at Sacred Heart, CNN has confirmed.

The allegation came after Foley resigned on September 29 as details of his sexually explicit instant messages to teen congressional pages became public. Roth also told reporters at the time that Foley had entered a rehabilitation facility for alcoholism and that he was gay.

In an interview with the Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Fla., Mercieca recalled massaging Foley while the teen was naked, skinny-dipping with Foley at a secluded lake in Lake Worth, and being naked in the same room with him on overnight trips. (The Advocate; AP contributed to this report)

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