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Miami Archdiocese apologizes to Foley

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MIAMI, Florida (CNN) -- The priest whom former Rep. Mark Foley has accused of molesting him when he was a teen could face sanctions, the Miami Archdiocese said Friday while offering the embattled ex-congressman an apology for the priest's "morally reprehensible" behavior.

The Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office identified Foley's alleged abuser as Father Anthony Mercieca, the archdiocese said in a written statement.

Sources close to the investigation previously told CNN that Foley named Mercieca as his alleged abuser.

The statement said Mercieca, who worked in the archdiocese from the mid-1960s through the early 2000s, could face ecclesiastical sanctions.

"John Favalora, archbishop of Miami, is withdrawing Father Mercieca's faculties," the archdiocese said.

"The Archdiocese of Miami is distressed by the revelations disclosed by Father Mercieca regarding former Representative Mark Foley. Such behavior is morally reprehensible, canonically criminal and inexcusable," the statement says.

"An apology is due to Mr. Foley for the hurt he has experienced. While it was long in coming, with God's merciful grace this painful revelation can be the beginning of reconciliation and an instrument of redemption and healing for Mr. Foley."

Anyone who has been the victim of sexual abuse by clergy or church personnel should contact the archdiocese's victim's assistance coordinator at 1-866-802-2873, an earlier statement said.

On Thursday, Mercieca told CNN that he fondled the lawmaker as a teen, but he said it wasn't abuse because Foley "seemed to like it."

"Once maybe I touched him or so, but didn't, it wasn't -- because it's not something you call, I mean, rape or penetration or anything like that you know. We were just fondling," Father Anthony Mercieca, 69, said in a phone interview with CNN affiliate WPTV from his home on the Maltese island of Gozo in the Mediterranean.

"He seemed to like it, you know? So it was sort of more like a spontaneous thing," Mercieca told WPTV, a West Palm Beach, Florida, station.

Mercieca, however, rejected the idea that he sexually abused Foley, saying, "See abuse, it's a bad word, you know, because abuse, you abuse someone against his will. But it involved just spontaneousness, you know?" (Watch what the priest had to say about Foley -- 3:20)

The priest also questioned the timing of Foley's allegations against him, suggesting the six-term congressman only recently became bothered by their relationship.

"Let's say it was 40 years ago, almost 40 years ago, so why bring this up at this late stage?" Mercieca asked. "Anyway, he will overcome it, with a psychiatrist you know. Mark is a very intelligent man."

Mercieca said he and the teen Foley were friends, "almost like brothers," and they went on trips together to the beach, rodeo and arcade. They also went out of town together to New York and Washington, where they visited museums.

'Let bygones be bygones'

Mercieca apologized to Foley but implored the former lawmaker to remember the fun they had together.

"I would say that if I offended him, I am sorry, but to remember the good time we had together, you know?" he said. "And how really we enjoyed each other's company. And to let bygones be bygones. Don't keep dwelling on this thing, you know?"

Mercieca worked at Sacred Heart Church in Lake Worth, Florida, in the mid-1960s, which is about the time Foley alleged the abuse occurred, a source said.

Foley, 52, has said through attorney David Roth that he was molested by a priest when he was between the ages of 13 and 15, which would have been between 1967 and 1969. Foley was an altar boy at Sacred Heart, CNN has confirmed.

The allegation came after Foley resigned on September 29 as details of his sexually explicit instant messages to teen congressional pages became public.

Roth also told reporters at the time that Foley had entered a rehabilitation facility for alcoholism and that he was gay.

The Herald-Tribune in Sarasota, Florida, reported Wednesday that Mercieca -- in an interview from his island home -- conceded there were encounters that Foley could perceive to be sexually inappropriate. (Watch what the priest told the newspaper about his and Foley's relationship -- 3:05 Video)

Mercieca recalled for the newspaper massaging Foley while the teen was naked, skinny-dipping with Foley at a secluded lake in Lake Worth and being naked in the same room with him on overnight trips, according to the Herald-Tribune.

Mercieca also told the newspaper about an incident he couldn't remember because he had been taking tranquilizers when he "was going through a nervous breakdown."

"I used to take them all the time. They affected my mind a little bit," he said, according to the newspaper.

He reiterated that claim during interviews with WPTV and CNN's "Paula Zahn Now." But he told the station, "We didn't do anything dirty ourselves, you know."

Neither Roth nor Foley's civil attorney, Gerald Richman, had any comment on the revelation of the priest's name or the newspaper interview.

On Tuesday, Richman said Foley would not press charges against the clergyman because of the statute of limitations. Richman also said Foley had accepted an offer of counseling from the Miami Archdiocese.

The Palm Beach County state attorney's office says it cannot conduct an investigation because Foley has declined to press charges.

CNN's Susan Candiotti and Delia Gallagher contributed to this report.

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Father Anthony Mercieca, shown in an undated photo, has apologized to Mark Foley and said he should "let bygones be bygones."



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