Suspended US priest convicted of charges in sex tourism case
JOHNSTOWN, Pennsylvania — A Roman Catholic priest accused of traveling to Honduras to molest poor street children during missionary trips was convicted on Tuesday of several charges.
Federal jurors convicted the Rev. Joseph Maurizio Jr. of charges including three of four counts related to sex abuse of boys during trips to a Honduran orphanage.
Maurizio was accused of traveling abroad from 2004 to 2009 to have sex with three young boys, a charge known as sexual tourism. He also was convicted of possession of child pornography and illegally transferring money to a charity to help fund the trips. Jurors acquitted him of another count of traveling outside the United States for sex with a minor and two other counts involving the transfer of funds.
The 70-year-old priest, who has been suspended from Our Lady Queen of Angels Parish in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, showed no reaction as the verdict was read to the packed courtroom. He is scheduled to be sentenced in February.
The priest repeatedly denied the allegations. His defense attorney presented testimony suggesting that interviewers can plant ideas that lead to false accusations.
During the trial, a key witness recanted on the stand, testifying he was never molested by Maurizio as a 14-year-old boy, but prosecutors argued that another youth had witnessed the abuse. Two other Honduran men testified that Maurizio abused them, one saying the priest offered him candy so the priest could fondle him and the other saying the priest asked to take his photo while he and another child, both about 14, were taking showers.
Defense attorney Steven Passarello said he and his client were “very disappointed” but respected the jury’s decision and would be working on post-trial motions and any appeals if necessary.
Elizabeth Williams, president of ProNino USA, the nonprofit that operated the orphanage between 2002 and 2011, said the verdict was a validation of the former orphans’ accusations.
“It sends a clear message that you can’t cross the US border to molest children,” Williams told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
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