NEW YORK – An elderly priest admitted getting naked in saunas with Mark Foley decades ago when the page-preying ex-congressman was a boy in Florida.

“We were friends and trusted each other as brothers and loved each other as brothers,” the Rev. Anthony Mercieca, 72, told The Associated Press from his home in Malta.

Asked if their relationship was sexual, the priest replied: “It wasn’t.”

But he confessed that, at the time, in 1967, “I had a nervous breakdown and was taking some pills and alcohol, and maybe I did something that he didn’t like.”

A childhood friend of Foley’s told the New York Daily News that he was shocked to hear Mercieca accused. He called him “one of the good guys” and thought it was another “inappropriate” priest the boys knew who was the culprit.

Jon Ombres, 52, a former altar boy with Foley in the 1960s, said he and Foley would hang out in the apartment of an older Irish priest who let them smoke and drink – until the day the priest grabbed for his fly.

“He attempted something at me, and I jumped up and ran,” Ombres said. Foley, however, continued to visit that priest.

Foley, 52, who disappeared into rehab after his e-mails to young pages surfaced and sparked a political scandal, said in a plea for understanding that he had been molested by a clergyman as a boy.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the House Ethics Committee continued to probe who knew what when about Foley’s behavior. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., is in the hot seat because several congressmen and aides have testified he knew about Foley long ago and did nothing.

House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told the committee he approached Hastert about Foley last spring and the speaker told him the problem “had been taken care of.”

The former clerk of the House of Representatives, Jeff Trandahl, who had been a strict overseer of the page program, testified for more than four hours Thursday.

Meanwhile, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., sent out a fund-raising letter backing Tim Mahoney, the Democrat running for Foley’s seat. She does not mention the Republican in the race, but repeatedly urges voters to “replace” Foley – even though he has already quit.

According to ABC News, he told the panel he’d been in regular contact with Hastert’s office about a “problem group of members and staff” who spent too much time with pages – suggesting the problem could go beyond Foley.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.