A Pennsylvania Roman Catholic priest who is facing child sex abuse charges in the United States was involved with youngsters in Costa Rica, too.
The priest, Joseph D. Maurizio, Jr., 69, was charged Thursday with engaging in illicit sexual conduct and possession of child pornography following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations in Pittsburgh, the federal agency reported. He has been suspended as pastor of the Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Central City, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh.
Federal agents allege that they found possible child pornography on his computer system that was in the church rectory. The federal agency said that from July 2011 through the present, foreign travel records indicate that Maurizio has made approximately 10 separate trips to various Central American countries. Many of his visits were to Honduras where he was associated with Fundación ProNiño in Progresso, Honduras, a home for street children.
Federal agents visited the home and area to obtain statements that cover 10 years, the agency reported.
According to the court complaint, every year between 1999 and 2009, Maurizio traveled from Pennsylvania to Honduras to assist the non-profit organization that provides services to children there, said Homeland Security. Each trip lasted two to three weeks.
The priest also was reported to have been involved with a rescue home in Costa Rica called New Home for Street Children.
Sept. 12, search warrants were executed by Homeland Security special agents at the rectory at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church and a farm owned by Maurizio in Windber. Dozens of pieces of evidence were seized from the rectory including four computers, a laptop, hundreds of CDs, a loose hard drive, camera, floppy disks, thumb drives, VHS tapes and media cards, the agency said. Suspected images of child pornography were found on the loose hard drive, the agency added.
Homeland Security requested that anyone with information about Maurizio contact the agency by calling the 24-hour Tip line at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. The public can also submit an online tip at www.ice.gov/tips/ or by downloading the Operation Predator smartphone app and submitting a tip via the app, the agency said. All tips will remain anonymous, the agency added.
Years of online church bulletins at Our Lady Queen of Angels verify the priest’s involvement with Central America and Costa Rica, although there are little specifics.
The Maurizio case is creating a local firestorm because area bishops were said to have received reports of this type of illegal activity for the last five years. One report said that church authorities did not know of the priest’s outside work with children despite the mentions in the weekly bulletins.
Under U.S. law, illegal sexual activities overseas can be prosecuted in federal court.
Although Pope Frances has vowed to root out illegal sexual activity by the clergy, many who follow such cases have said they are skeptical. Last week the Vatican said a bishop in Paraguay was suspended over allegations he covered up cases of sexual misconduct by priests under his charge. Sunday a Catholic bishop in Britain resigned his post and admitted an affair with a married mother in his parish.
Roman Catholic priests are supposed to be celibate.