A Pennsylvania priest is behind bars this weekend — and possibly for as many as 40 years — on suspicion that he frequently traveled to Honduras for mission trips with the actual purpose of having sex with local children.
The Rev. Joseph Maurizio Jr., 69, was arrested Thursday and will remain in custody until a hearing Monday before a federal magistrate in Pittsburgh.
[Federal agents] learned Maurizio made regular trips of two to three weeks each to the Central American country from 1999 to 2009…
Maurizio also faces a child porn charge based on images of a prepubescent boy posing on a bed with his genitals exposed. The images were found on a computer hard drive seized during a search of the rectory, a criminal complaint said.
If convicted, Maurizio could go to jail for 30 years on the child-rape charges; he faces another 10 years for the alleged possession of child porn.
The case bears more than a passing resemblance to the one involving Father Jozef Wesolowski, the former papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic, whose alleged serial rape of Dominican children got him defrocked and arrested by the Vatican this year.
So far, Maurizio denies any wrongdoing, claiming that the sex-abuse charges against him are the result of a secret plot by the Honduran government to smear him and undermine his charity work. Investigators, on the other hand, claim to have a strong case against the man of God: they say they interviewed multiple witnesses,
… including children, who accused the priest of fondling boys, photographing them naked and offering them chocolates or money to perform sex acts on one another or with him.
On Monday, a judge will decide whether Maurizio will stay locked up until his trial.