The lawyer for a
Catholic priest who acknowledged fondling former
congressman Mark Foley when Foley was a teenager said Friday
there were no grounds for legal action against the
clergyman and denied allegations by a second man who
said the priest molested him.
''Father Anthony Mercieca believes that nothing
that happened between him and Mark Foley, some 40
years ago, could provide solid grounds for legal
action against him,'' lawyer Alfred Grech said in an e-mail
from his office in Malta to the Associated Press in
Rome. ''He therefore considers the aggressive and
unfavorable exposure as being unfair and unjustified.''
Foley, a 52-year-old Florida Republican,
resigned from Congress last month after the release of
his sexually explicit computer messages to teenage
male pages. His lawyer later said that Foley was an
alcoholic, that he was gay, and that he had been
molested as a boy by a ''clergyman.''
Mercieca, who is retired and lives on the
Maltese island of Gozo, was quoted by media in Florida
as saying that he fondled Foley and was nude with him
on several occasions while serving in a parish in the United
States in the 1960s. In a phone interview with the
Associated Press last week, he insisted that his
association with the boy ''wasn't sexual.''
The Maltese church has opened a probe into the
case. In Florida, the archdiocese of Miami has
confirmed that Mercieca is the person Foley said
abused him as a teen and has barred the priest from all
church work as it investigates Foley's claim.
Earlier this week another former altar boy in
Florida came forward and said he was sexually abused
by Mercieca in the 1970s. The man's lawyer, Jeffrey
Herman, said his client had been an altar boy at St. James
Catholic Church, where Mercieca worked.
The priest, speaking through his lawyer, denied
the allegation ''and describes it at best as a figment
of the imagination and at worst a malicious
fabrication,'' the statement said.
Herman has said he planned to file a lawsuit
against the archdiocese of Miami. His client, now 40
and identified in the lawsuit only as John Doe No. 26,
says Mercieca abused him when he was about 12 years old.
Officials with the archdiocese of Miami have
said church leaders had no idea at the time that
Mercieca might have been abusing altar boys. Mercieca,
who is a native of Gozo, does not serve in any parish, but
until last week he regularly celebrated Mass and heard
confession in the island's cathedral. (Maria