Pennsylvania Priest Accused of Abuse Was Reported 5 Years Ago, Records Show

The New York Times/September 26, 2014

By Trip Gabriel

Details of child sexual abuse that led to charges against a Roman Catholic priest on Thursday were reported to his Pennsylvania diocese nearly five years ago, court records show, but the church authorities did not remove him as a pastor.

The priest, the Rev. Joseph D. Maurizio Jr., was charged in federal court in Johnstown, Pa., with possessing child pornography and engaging in illicit sexual conduct on trips he made to a boys’ orphanage in Central America. Father Maurizio visited the orphanage over a decade until 2009, when a Virginia-based charity that runs the home uncovered accusations of abuse by “Father Joe,” and passed them on to the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, according to a criminal complaint and the group.

Father Maurizio, however, remained as pastor of Our Lady Queen of Angels in Central City, Pa., east of Pittsburgh, until this month, when he was placed on leave after federal agents raided his parish home and his chapel, carting off computers, a hard drive and other electronics. The diocese said in a statement after his arrest that it was “profoundly disturbed by the allegations.”

An activist who runs a priest-abuse website that learned of the accusations months before the arrest accused Bishop Mark L. Bartchak and his predecessor, Bishop Joseph V. Adamec, of looking the other way for years. “Their total lack of interest is so disturbing,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of

The Roman Catholic Church’s long-running abuse scandal led to the arrest this week of a former papal ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Pope Francis has set a new tone of not looking away from sex crimes by clergy members against children.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is reviewing the case of the first senior official of the Roman Catholic Church to be convicted in connection with the sexual abuse of children, Msgr. William J. Lynn of Philadelphia, whose 2012 conviction was overturned last year.

Father Maurizio, 69, made annual visits to Honduras, Nicaragua and other Central American countries to help homeless children, according to newsletters of a charity he ran. Investigators said he also had another purpose: sexual tourism.

Young men and boys interviewed in El Progreso, Honduras, by an agent of the Department of Homeland Security this year told of a decade-long pattern of abuse by Father Maurizio, according to the criminal complaint. One male witness said the priest tried to photograph him naked in a bath and later offered him money to masturbate. Another witness said the priest pulled down his pants in a chapel when he was 14, and the two had sex after which the priest gave him chocolates. A third witness described seeing Father Maurizio grope an underage boy in a pickup truck.

More than four years earlier, these and other accounts had first reached the American charity that sponsored the orphanage, Fundación ProNiño, a residence for homeless boys 6 to 18. Board members from the group, ProNino USA, based in Richmond, Va., went to Pennsylvania to confront Father Maurizio.
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The priest denied the accusations, court records state, and he threatened the group, saying that he would withhold money from their orphanage as he tried to dissuade its chairwoman from reporting him. The complaints were passed to the bishop anyway, in November 2009, as well as to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Pennsylvania attorney general.

Father Maurizio stopped making trips to Central America for nearly two years, according to the complaint. But since July 2011, he has gone on 10 trips to countries including Costa Rica, Guatemala, Haiti and Nicaragua.

In a newsletter about his charity, Humanitarian Interfaith Ministries, Father Maurizio reported that he was expanding to orphanages in South America. The summer 2012 newsletter said Father Maurizio’s charity had received its major support for 15 years from the Pennsylvania Knights of Columbus, the lay Catholic organization, for which he said he was a former chaplain.

On Thursday, a spokesman for the priest’s diocese told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that it was unaware of Father Maurizio’s charity, though he boasted in newsletters of taking volunteers on mission trips.

Out of frustration that the authorities were ignoring Father Maurizio, ProNino USA contacted, which tracks accusations of child sexual abuse against Catholic clergy members. It alerted a lawyer with ties to the Department of Justice and shared documents with the Department of Homeland Security, whose agents in Pittsburgh began investigating, Ms. Barrett Doyle said.

Father Maurizio, who appeared briefly in court on Thursday, remains in custody pending a detention hearing on Monday.

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