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Fla. man alleges abuse by priest linked to Foley



Published: Thu, October 26, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



The man came forward after seeing reports about the former congressman.

SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

NORTH MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- A South Florida man accused a priest Wednesday of molesting him almost 30 years ago -- the same priest former Rep. Mark Foley alleges sexually abused him.

In a suit filed against the Archdiocese of Miami in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, the unidentified man said that the Rev. Anthony Mercieca fondled and performed oral sex on him when he was 12 or 13 years old. At the time, the alleged victim was an altar boy at St. James Church in North Miami, where Mercieca was assigned.

The man is seeking more than 10 million in damages.

Mercieca could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

According to the suit, the molestation happened after Mercieca, known as "Father Tony" to his accuser, invited the boy on a bicycle ride after altar-boy practice.

Afterward, Father Mercieca allegedly took the boy to the top of the church's bell tower, where he unzipped the boy's shorts, fondled him and performed oral sex on him. He then told the boy to keep quiet about what happened, the suit said.

The following week, Mercieca invited the boy to go bike riding again, but the boy declined and walked out, said the accuser's attorney, Jeffrey Herman.

"He left the church, and essentially left the church for the rest of his life," Herman said.

Saw news reports

In a statement released at a news conference at Herman's office, the alleged victim said he came forward after seeing news reports about Father Mercieca.

"When I saw his picture last Friday, all of my nightmares came back," the statement read. "I feel so bad that there are more victims out there that have had the same thing done to them ... this time I could not be quiet because when I saw the picture, it was the priest who abused me and I knew I had to come out and tell my story."

The suit said the archdiocese knew or should have known that Mercieca was abusing boys and did nothing to stop it.

Foley, 52, resigned from Congress last month after the discovery of his sexually explicit instant message exchanges with young male pages.

His attorneys told prosecutors last week that Mercieca sexually abused Foley when Foley was a 13-year-old altar boy at Sacred Heart in Lake Worth, Fla.

Mercieca, 69, told reporters that he and Foley skinny-dipped and sat naked in saunas and in hotel rooms on overnight trips. He admitted fondling Foley on at least one occasion, but denied they had sex.

The Archdiocese of Miami suspended Mercieca, who is retired and living on the Maltese island of Gozo, and urged other victims to come forward.

Investigations

Both the Archdiocese of Miami and the Diocese of Gozo have said they will investigate Foley's accusations.

The archdiocese also said Wednesday that the lawsuit's accusations "were previously unknown to the Archdiocese of Miami" and that the archdiocese typically investigates when it receives such an accusation.

"There were no prior allegations or information to indicate Father Mercieca did or would engage in any type of inappropriate or abusive behavior," according to a statement.

Herman said his client would also speak to law enforcement officials. Gerald Richman, an attorney for Foley, said he could not comment on the merits of the lawsuit, but added: "The things that have come out regarding this particular priest in general, including his own statements, bolster what Mr. Foley has said."

Barbara Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said at Wednesday's news conference that church leaders have not done enough to prevent Mercieca from abusing children.

"We know that Father Mercieca abused more than Mark Foley," she said.

"We also know that he admitted it. We also know that his bishop has not ordered Father Mercieca to go into treatment. Father Mercieca is still a dangerous man and poses a risk to children, and yet we see no action on the part of church leaders to ensure the safety of children around that man."




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