- Associated Press - Saturday, September 19, 2015

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) - Closing arguments are scheduled Monday in the trial of a Roman Catholic priest from western Pennsylvania charged with traveling to Honduras to molest poor street children during missionary trips.

Defense attorneys rested their case in Cambria County Court on Friday afternoon without calling the Rev. Joseph Maurizio Jr., 70, of Windber to the stand.

Maurizio, who has been suspended from Our Lady Queen of Angels Parish in Somerset County, is accused of traveling abroad from 2004 to 2009 to have sex with three young boys - a charge known as sexual tourism - and illegally transferring $8,000 to a charity to help fund the trips.

A defense expert witness on Friday raised questions about investigators’ treatment of alleged abuse victims, suggesting that interviewers can implant ideas that lead to false accusations.

Forensic psychologist Frank Dattilio said social workers, detectives and child advocates occasionally see sexual abuse “where it doesn’t exist … and it can influence how they ask questions.” He acknowledged, however, that it is “very rare” for authorities to deliberately frame questions to elicit a desired answer.

Dattilio also said it’s not uncommon for victims to delay disclosure, fearing retribution or being labeled homosexual in communities where that is considered a sin.

Johanna Vena of Cambria Veterinary Care in Johnstown, a parishioner and friend of the priest, testified that she believes in Maurizio “100 percent” and would trust him to babysit her three teenage children.

Earlier in the trial, a key witness recanted on the stand, testifying that he was never molested by Maurizio despite prosecution allegations that he had been as a 14-year-old boy. He said he felt pressured to make the accusations during a previous interview with investigators and said he was prevented from getting a visa to testify in the priest’s favor at an earlier proceeding.

Two other Honduran men did testify that the priest abused them, one saying Maurizio offered him candy so the priest could fondle him and another said Maurizio asked to take his photo while he and another child, both about 14 at the time, were taking showers.

Defense attorney Steven Passarello has sought dismissal of the charges, citing the recanted allegations and saying there was a lack of other evidence. The judge delayed ruling on the motion until the defense concluded its case.

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