At the end of a criminal trial linked to Tuesday’s report of systematic sexual abuse of children in the Altoona-Johnstown Dioceses and the two bishops responsible for hiding their crimes, the first of approximately 50 Western Pennsylvania priests accused of raping children was sentenced to a long prison term.
A 71-year-old Catholic priest in Pennsylvania was sentenced Wednesday to nearly 16 1/2 years in prison for sexually assaulting underprivileged children in Honduras. U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson also issued the guilty party, Joseph D. Maurizio Jr. a $50,000 fine and ordered him to pay restitution to his two known victims; $10,000 each.
Maurizio was arrested by immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in September 2014 after it was reported he had molested boys in Honduras during a mission trip. The following report comes from the AP shortly after his arrest:
A criminal complaint alleges Maurizio gave boys candy and money so he could molest them — including performing a sex act on a 14-year-old in a chapel — or watch the boys have sex. It happened during missions trips to Honduras with his self-run charity in 2009 and prior years, according to the complaint. Maurizio has been placed on leave from the Somerset County church he also pastored.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Haines told the judge authorities have found “child erotica” — which may later be proven to be child pornography — on the priest’s camera when he returned from another Central American country in July.
Haines contended that Maurizio’s sex crimes were extensive and that he had gotten away with “horrific crimes against children for more than a decade.”
At trial she presented evidence that he had created and used his personal charity Human Interfaith Ministries to pay for his twice-a-year trips to conduct missionary work in Honduras. She claimed that he had used charity funds — which came from the community and Our Lady Queen of Angels Church, where Maurizio served as pastor — for the thirteen total trips between 2004 and 2009, and that funds were used to pay the boys he had sex with.
Maurizio denied his guilt but was convicted by a federal jury of 5 of his 8 original charges in September 2015. He was found guilty of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places (sex-tourism), money laundering and possessing child pornography.
In his trial for having sex with and molesting three boys at a Honduran orphanage, one of the boys’ testimony was thrown out for lack of evidence and the two charges based on funding the sexual assaults were also not proven. The boys traveled from Central America to testify against the priest through the aid of an interpreter.
“It is important to recognize the courage of the victims, the tenacity of the investigators and the resolve of the prosecutors to bring this child predator priest to justice,” U.S. Attorney Hickton said in a statement. “This sentence ensures that Joseph Maurizio will never again have the opportunity to travel beyond our nation’s borders to victimize children.”
According to the AP, federal prosecutors in Johnstown had been trying to get the maximum penalty of 30 years in prison. But, “defense attorneys for Maurizio, who maintains his innocence, argued for leniency based on the priest’s age, charitable works, his U.S. Navy service during the Vietnam War, and other legal factors.”
Cura de Pensilvania, Joseph Maurizio, pasará casi 17 años en prisión por abusar sexualmente de menores. pic.twitter.com/MMXaslqega
— El Nuevo País y Zeta (@enpaiszeta) March 3, 2016
A day before Maurizio was sentenced, the Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane released a 147-page grand jury report stating that two former bishops from the Altoona-Johnstown diocese were involved in covering up the sexual abuse of more than 50 priests over 40 years, detailing pervasive and systematic abuse from dozens of priests in the diocese. The report alleges that hundred of children were raped or molested. Maurizio’s trial and sentencing were not a part of the grand jury’s report; however, it does appear likely that the former bishops played a role in Maurizio’s ability to cover up his abuses for so long.
According to the report, a whistleblower accused Maurizio in 2009 and the diocese conducted its own investigation, including hiring a translator to review the victim’s claims. “Documents obtained from the Diocese show a high-ranking Diocesan official concluding the alleged conduct was ‘impossible,'” the report said.
Judge Gibson did not bring up the other investigation at sentencing. According to the AP she “criticized Maurizio for preying upon vulnerable children and hiding behind his collar.” Gibson said, “The defendant abused a position of public trust.”
“The defendant abused a position of public trust,” Gibson said.