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  Home :: 2006 October :: Foley’s ex-priest disconnected from reality 

Foley’s ex-priest disconnected from reality

By Stephanie Salter
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — “Heseemed to like it, you know? So it was sort of more like a spontaneousthing … See, abuse, it’s a bad word, you know, because abuse, you abusesomeone against his will. But it involved just spontaneousness, youknow?”

— The Rev. Anthony Mercieca on nude massages and “fondling” former Rep. Mark Foley when Foley was an altar boy

Beforethe bullet-train blur that is today’s news cycle passes, can we takejust a few minutes to study the Rev. Anthony Mercieca and his role inthe life of a now-disgraced United States congressman from Florida?

Thisisn’t about Republican and Democratic party politics. It’s aboutbetrayal, denial, the insidiousness of the sex abuse of minors and oneof the darkest chapters in the 2,000-year existence of the CatholicChurch.

Mercieca may now be retired to a remote island off Maltain the Mediterranean Sea, but — until last week when he spoke openlywith the news media about what he did with and to the adolescent Foley— he was a functioning priest, saying Mass and hearing confessions.

To read his admissions and his insistence that he did nothing wrong, is to question one’s ability to comprehend English.

Canthis be true? After all the multi-million-dollar lawsuit settlements,all the bishops’ conferences, all the apologies and zero-toleranceposition papers from church officials, a priest in good standing — whoserved for years in the United States — wonders why everyone is gettingso upset because he swam nude with an altar boy, massaged his nakedbody, slept naked overnight in the same room with him and “once maybe Itouched him or so.”

“(I)t’s not something you call, I mean, rapeor penetration or anything like that, you know,” Mercieca told areporter for WPTV, a CNN affiliate in West Palm Beach, Fla. “We werejust fondling.”

Just fondling.

What? They don’t getnewspapers or any radio or TV reception on the island of Gozo? TheVatican doesn’t bother to send its memos? None of Mercieca’s fellowclergy ever mentions something in a phone chat about the child sexabuse scandal that has rocked and is still rocking the church?

Apparently not.

Consequently,Mercieca may be completely out of touch with reality, but — until hetalked with reporters about “the good time” he and the young Foley had— he was qualified and fit enough to offer parishioners on his nativeisland the consecrated body of Christ and absolution for the sins theyconfessed to him.

Despite truly incredible odds against aCatholic priest anywhere remaining ignorant of a church scandal that isnow well into its second decade, suppose for a moment Mercieca wasblissfully unaware. Suppose he somehow didn’t know that priestsfondling altar boys is a universal no-no, that is was a no-no back inthe 1960s when he was assigned to Sacred Heart Church in Lake Worth,Fla.

What do you do with his response to Foley’s fate?

Asix-term Republican congressman gets outed as a homosexual and analcoholic when lecherous e-mails he sent to teen-aged male pages becomepublic. The representative resigns in a storm of shame, causing atsunami of political fallout. As part of his explanation for his secretlife and substance abuse, the congressman includes the information thathe was molested as a minor by a clergyman.

Mercieca’s advice:

“Iwould say that if I offended him, I am sorry, but to remember the goodtime we had together, you know? And how we really enjoyed each other’scompany. And to let bygones be bygones. Don’t keep dwelling on thisthing, you know?”

All right. So there’s no mea culpa in theworks. How about a little compassion? Perhaps a sliver of understandingof the burden Foley has carried since he was 13 or 14, the self-hatred,the sexual ambiguity, the escape into alcohol? How about anappreciation for the size of the hole from which he now is attemptingto crawl?

“Let’s say it was 40 years ago, almost 40 years ago,”Mercieca told the WPTV reporter. “So why bring it up at this latestage? Anyway, he will overcome it, with a psychiatrist, you know. Markis a very intelligent man.”

Of course. That’s all it takes: smarts and a few sessions with a shrink. Foley will be good as new in no time.

Besides,looking back, the 29- or 30-year-old priest and the altar boy had sucha good time on their trips to the beach and to New York and Washington,D.C., what’s really to get over? The kid seemed to like it, you know?

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or


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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia