Somerset County Priest Accused of Sex with Central American Children
September 26, 2014
A priest accused of traveling to Honduras to engage in sex with children while promoting missionary work with the poor there has been arrested by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
Documents reveal the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown and law enforcement agencies first learned of the allegations five years ago.
Church officials, the Attorney General's Office and the FBI were all declining to comment Friday.
The Rev. Joseph Maurizio Jr., 69, spent two decades working with orphaned children in Central America. Homeland Security investigators say some of those same children were his victims.
"We see this very, very often with child-molesting Catholic clerics. They gravitate toward communities or countries where kids are especially vulnerable," said David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
In July, an investigator interviewed several of Maurizio's alleged victims in Honduras.
In one case, court records say a victim known as John Doe 3 "observed Maurizio reach over, place his hand inside a minor boy's pants, and touch the minor boy's genital area."
That same victim said he saw "John Doe 2 and Maurizio engaging in sexual intercourse inside the chapel."
Two weeks ago, authorities searched the rectory of Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Central City, Somerset County, where Maurizio is pastor, and found multiple images of child pornography. ICE agents also searched the farm where Maurizio lived in Windber.
The allegations against Maurizio first surfaced in 2009, when volunteers reported him to the diocese, the FBI and the state attorney general. But the case apparently floundered until this year.
“That is so incredibly disappointing and so painfully common,” Clohessy said.
Maurizio is in jail, awaiting a detention hearing Monday morning. He has said abuse allegations against him were a bogus plot by the Honduran government to thwart his charity work.
Maurizio's attorney, Steven Passarello, said the criminal complaint regurgitates allegations made five years ago after the priest's charity had a falling out with a local charity. He said children were bribed or coerced into making abuse allegations.
The ICE office wants to hear from any other possible victims. There is an online form to submit tips at www.ice.gov/exec/forms/hsi-tips/tips.asp and a toll-free tip line at 866-347-2423.