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Missionary priest guilty of child abuse

By Agencies

A federal judge has delayed next week's sentencing for a priest convicted of having sex with poor street children during missionary trips to Honduras.

The judge will hold a hearing Tuesday on whether to grant a new trial for the Rev. Joseph Maurizio instead of sentencing the 70-year-old priest that day in Johnstown, about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh.

Maurizio, a suspended Somerset County priest was convicted in September of charges including engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, also known as sexual tourism.

Maurizio's attorney has filed several sealed motions and documents in the last month, so his specific claims are unclear.

But an order from U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson setting next week's hearing said the request for a new trial is "based upon newly discovered evidence and an alleged violation of Brady v. Maryland."

Brady is a landmark 1963 US Supreme Court decision requiring prosecutors to turn over any evidence that could be used by a defendant to support his innocence or impeach the credibility of a prosecution witness.

The US Attorney's Office in Pittsburgh didn't immediately comment Friday on the judge's decision late Thursday to replace the priest's sentencing with a hearing on the request for a new trial.

Defense attorney Steven Passarello said he can't comment because the hearing stems from documents still sealed.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown suspended Maurizio after federal prosecutors filed charges in September 2014.

Prosecutors contend Maurizio used a self-run Johnstown-based charity called Humanitarian Interfaith Ministries to travel to an orphanage for several years ending in 2009. Maurizio allegedly promised candy and cash to boys to watch them shower, have sex or fondle them.

Gibson last month dismissed a sexual tourism charge involving one boy who recanted his allegations at the priest's trial. The boy was 14 at the time of the alleged incident. Federal prosecutors argued that the boy recanted because he was ashamed and that another boy witnessed the abuse, but Gibson threw it out for lack of evidence.

Maurizio, who las served at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Central City, also has been looking for a public relations firm to tell his version of events.

"He is desirous of getting his side of the story out because he has maintained his innocence throughout, notwithstanding the jury's verdict, but believes he was wrongfully convicted," Passarello said last month.

The attorney described Maurizio in a letter to public relations firms as "an American political prisoner" whose "civil rights as an American citizen have been violated by multiple international government agencies."

Passarello had argued that the charges against the priest were trumped up and instigated by a rival charity, ProNino USA, the nonprofit that operated the orphanage when the boys were allegedly molested.

ProNino's president, Elizabeth Williams, has said Maurizio's conviction validated the former orphans' accusations.