A former US Republican politician at the centre of a scandal over sexually explicit emails sent to young male assistants has come out as gay, and revealed a priest abused him when he was a teenager.

Mark Foley, who voted against gay marriage in 1996 and once called speculation about his sexuality revolting and unforgivable, resigned from the US House of Representatives last Friday over the scandal, the New York Times reported.

Foley allegedly sent a series of explicit messages to teenaged assistants in recent years.

Transcripts of some of the messages were made public last week, prompting Foley to resign and sparking a crisis in the Republican Party amid accusations senior Republican figures already knew about Foley’s messages but failed to take action.

The Republican Party has ordered an inquiry into Foley’s conduct. The FBI is also investigating the matter.

Since his resignation, Foley has checked into a clinic for alcohol and other health problems.

Foley’s lawyer, David Roth, announced this week his client was gay and had been molested as a teenager.

I deeply regret and accept full responsibility for the harm I have caused, Foley said in a statement, the Washington Post reported.

Roth denied Foley had sexual contact with minors.

Before his resignation last week, Foley struggled to balance being a Republican with his sexuality, which was widely known in political circles.

He campaigned against child abuse and voted against gay marriage, but reportedly hit the gay glass ceiling in a largely conservative political party, Washington Post reported.

A gay friend of Foley’s family, Tracy Thorne-Begland, said the scandal exposed the contradiction between Foley’s private life and his work as a politician.

You have someone who for all intents and purposes is a gay person, but continues to perpetuate the myth that there’s something wrong with it, Thorne-Begland told the Washington Post.

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