Convicted Somerset County priest seeks public relations help |

Convicted Somerset County priest seeks public relations help

The Rev. Joseph Maurizio Jr.

A Somerset County priest awaiting sentencing on charges he traveled overseas to molest orphaned boys maintains his innocence and is soliciting public relations firms to tell his story, drawing the ire of a national support group for clergy-abuse survivors.

The Rev. Joseph D. Maurizio Jr., 70, is to be sentenced in February on federal charges he used a self-run charity based in Johnstown — Humanitarian Interfaith Ministries — to visit a Honduran orphanage numerous times between 1999 and 2009, promising candy and cash to boys to watch them shower, have sex or fondle them.

His attorney, Steven Passarello of Altoona, on Wednesday confirmed Maurizio is seeking help from public relations firms.

In September, Maurizio was convicted of engaging or attempting to engage in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, possessing child pornography and money laundering.

“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.

Citing an article on Maurizio's efforts that appeared Tuesday in the online trade publication, the director of St. Louis-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, urged public relations firms to refuse to help.

“A convicted predator priest is apparently hiring a public relations firm in advance of his sentencing,” David Clohessy said in a statement. “We hope his bishop prevents him from doing this or that no firm accepts his offer.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown suspended Maurizio in September 2014 after federal prosecutors filed charges. Tony DeGol, diocesan spokesman, said Maurizio remains suspended from public ministry. He declined additional comment.

In a five-page letter to unidentified public relations firms obtained by the Tribune-Review, Passarello describes Maurizio as “an American political prisoner” whose “civil rights as an American citizen have been violated by multiple international government agencies.”

The letter notes the former pastor of Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Central City “is ready, willing and able” to retain the services of a firm to “help in getting his story out to the public.”

Maurizio is to be sentenced on Feb. 2.

“We hope it's a harsh one that will keep him away from kids for years to come,” Clohessy said in SNAP's statement. “But between now and then, he hopes to hire spin doctors who can help him duck and dodge and deny responsibility for his heinous crimes. We hope he fails.”

Maurizio pleaded not guilty and did not testify during his 10-day trial in Johnstown.

Passarello's letter points out that one of the alleged victims, who recanted his story, testified during the trial that he “was forced into a false confession” during a discussion with a forensic interviewer because “he had no money, had not eaten and was scared and wanted to leave.”

Pornographic images that became part of the case consisted of two photos of a naked disabled boy, now deceased, who shunned clothing “because it irritated his body,” according to Passarello's letter.

“It was the defense's position that these two photos were nothing more than one might see in National Geographic and were only taken to show the extreme poverty and life that these Hondurans were leading,” Passarello said in the letter.

Passarello on Wednesday said the letter reiterates the defenses Maurizio has raised since the allegations surfaced.

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of, said she is aware of other accused or convicted priests who started campaigns to clear their names, but none sought help from a professional firm, to her knowledge.

“I've never heard of one hiring a PR firm,” Barrett Doyle said. “It's quite unusual.”

Maurizio is in the Cambria County Prison, where he has been held on a federal detainer since his Sept. 25, 2014, arrest.

Liz Zemba is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-601-2166 or [email protected].

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.