ROME – The lawyer for a Catholic priest who acknowledged fondling former Rep. 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 interns. His lawyer later said that Foley was an alcoholic, gay and 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 U.S. 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.
The Archdiocese of Miami has said it 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.