A Roman Catholic priest has admitted to having an intimate relationship with Mark Foley when the disgraced Republican lawmaker was about 12 years old, Florida media reported on Thursday.
The revelation came amid an explosive scandal over revelations that while Florida's representative in Washington, Foley had sent sexually suggestive messages to teenage congressional aides.
Foley resigned last month, and his lawyer said the prominent Republican was an alcoholic, gay and had been molested as a boy by a priest.
Roman Catholic priest Anthony Mercieca, 72, admitted to a newspaper and a television station that he had a series of encounters with Foley that might be perceived as inappropriate, but denied he had raped the boy about four decades ago.
"I was down, I was taking pills, tranquilizers ... then once maybe I touched him or so. But it's not something you call rape or penetration or anything like that, it was fondling," Mercieca said in an interview with Palm Beach's WPTV station.
Mercieca told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune he had taught Foley "some wrong things" related to sex.
He said he had massaged Foley while the boy was naked, skinny-dipped with him at a lake and was naked in the same room on overnight trips, the paper reported.
Mercieca told the daily that after he moved from Brazil to Florida in 1966, he and Foley became close friends and "loved each other like brothers." Foley would have been 12 or 13 at the time.
The priest said he didn't understand why Foley has decided to come forward after almost 40 years. "Why does he want to destroy me in my old age?" Mercieca told the newspaper.
"I would say that if I offended him, I am sorry. But remember the good times we had together and how we enjoyed each other's company, and let bygones be bygones," he told WPTV.
Mercieca, who now lives on the Maltese island of Gozo, said that, at the time, he considered his relationship with Foley innocent but now realized his actions could be labeled inappropriate, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune said.
Republican leaders of Congress have been accused of failing to take appropriate action or even of covering up what they knew of the scandal, which has dominated US politics since the story broke late last month.
The widening scandal has increased pressure on the Republicans as they risk losing control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1994 at the Nov. 7 mid-term elections.
Probes have been launched by the US Justice Department, a congressional ethics committee and Florida state authorities.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami said Foley's lawyer had given the name of his client's alleged abuser to the Palm Beach State Attorney.
"Once the State Attorney concludes its investigation and/or releases the name of the alleged abuser to the archdiocese, it is our intention to make the name public per our policy relating to the protection of children and vulnerable adults," it said in a statement.
"The Archdiocese of Miami prays that representative Mark Foley realizes he is not alone in his journey to recovery; the Holy Spirit is his guiding light," said the statement.