The Foley Scandal’s Brazilian Skinny Dipping Connection

The sexual advances against under-age pages in the American Congress that brought down Mark Adam Foley, a six-term Republican congressman from Florida who championed the shielding of children from sexual predators, has a Brazilian connection after all.

Father Anthony Mercieca, 69, the Catholic priest who confessed to entertaining "inappropriate relations" more than 40 years ago with a youthful Foley, then in his early teens, told reporters that he lived and was ordained in Brazil, a country where, according to him, walking nude in public is common and socially accepted.

For Mercieca, all is a matter of culture. The trips he and Foley had to Lake Worth, in South Florida, where they swam in the nude was something he saw as quite natural thanks to the culture he had acquired in Brazilian lands.

And he explained it in an interview with the Washington Post: "In Brazil they skinny dip all the time and no one gets scandalized. It is part of the culture. It is natural. They don’t make an issue out of a skinny dip in the park or a massage." There was no intercourse, he said, adding: "There was no rape or anything…. Maybe light touches here or there."

In Brazil, the bishop in charge of foreign missionaries working in the country fears that Father Mercieca’s statements may tarnish Brazil’s reputation.

Anuar Battisti, city archbishop of Maringá, in the  state of Paraná, and president of CNBB’s (National Conference of Brazilian Bishops) Committee on Coordinated Ministries and Consecrated Life, says that Mercieca’s comments "can besmirch the nation’s image and also the image of missionaries who come here. Foreign people read this and start saying that all Brazilians are savages."

Battisti, who is Brazilian, said that he has been working for years with foreign missionaries and never heard that it is normal for Brazilians to walk around naked or give massages in the nude.

"I ignore this kind of behavior. The missionaries who come to Brazil already have a certain cultural level. Of course, some of them might be surprised when getting in touch with the culture of an Amazonian indigenous tribe, for example. But in no case the missionary will make this kind of remark because it’s not the reality. Brazilians don’t walk around naked."

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