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Florida church
widens probe of priest tied to Foley

Florida church
widens probe of priest tied to Foley

The Roman Catholic archdiocese of Miami has asked priests at eight Florida churches to speak with parishioners about whether a retired Catholic priest accused of molesting former congressman Mark Foley may have molested anyone else. The archdiocese on Friday also barred the Reverend Anthony Mercieca from all church work while it investigates the allegations. ''Such behavior is morally reprehensible, canonically criminal, and inexcusable,'' archdiocese officials said in a statement. Archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said pastors at each of the churches where Mercieca worked between 1965 and 2002 will talk to parishioners to uncover any other accusations against him. Mercieca, 69, now lives in Malta in the Mediterranean, where church officials opened an investigation after he admitted fondling Foley and being naked in saunas with him when Foley was a boy in the 1960s. Foley, 52, resigned from Congress last month after the release of sexually explicit computer messages he sent to teenage male pages. His lawyers later acknowledged he was gay and said Foley had been molested as a boy by a clergyman. Agosta said Foley should speak to church officials to assist in the investigation. She said if the allegations are true, Mercieca could be forced from the priesthood. ''An apology is due to Mr. Foley for the hurt he has experienced,'' the archdiocese's statement said. Foley's attorney, Gerald Richman, said he did not know if the Florida Republican would cooperate in the church's investigation. The former congressman entered a 30-day rehabilitation program for alcoholism on October 1. ''You can't predict what's going to happen when he gets out of treatment,'' Richman said. ''There's no immediate plan.'' Mercieca, who lives on the Maltese island of Gozo, has denied having sexual intercourse with Foley but has given different details about the encounters in interviews. A spokesman for the Gozo diocese said Mercieca does not serve in any parish on the island but that he regularly celebrates Mass and hears confessions. (Brian Skoloff, AP)

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