- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (AP) - A federal judge heard evidence that prosecutors may have wrongly withheld evidence against a Pennsylvania priest convicted of sexually abusing children in Honduras but didn’t immediately decide whether he deserves a new trial.

The 70-year-old priest, Joseph Maurizio, was convicted in September of molesting two boys during several years of missionary trips to an orphanage.

Tuesday’s hearing concerned a statement given by a boy who, at one point, told investigators he wasn’t “abused” by the priest.

The boy told a federal investigator that some others “think badly of me” because of his contact with Maurizio.

“Perhaps they think he really abused me, but that was not the case,” the boy’s statement concluded.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Larson argued the victim’s use of the word “abuse” was merely lost in translation, and that he was confused and believed the term referred to a specific sex act.

The boy later clarified his statement to investigators, confirming that the priest fondled him, which Larson said was consistent with his trial testimony. She said that’s why she didn’t turn over the statement to the priest’s attorney before trial.

The law requires prosecutors to give defendants any evidence that might help them cast doubt on the prosecution’s case. Defense attorney Steven Passarello argued he could have used the statement to do just that, and that the priest deserves a new trial as a result.

U.S. District Judge Kim Gibson adjourned Tuesday’s hearing without saying when he might rule, though he told the attorneys “it’s pretty clear this is favorable to the defense.”

Still, the judge said he must determine whether it was “material” to the charges the priest face, and said he planned to issue a ruling later. The judge didn’t give a timetable.

Federal prosecutors and Passarello declined to comment after the hearing.

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 three boys to watch them shower or perform sex acts, or fondle them.

Gibson in December 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 the boy recanted because he was ashamed and that another boy witnessed the abuse, but Gibson threw it out for lack of evidence.

Maurizio last served at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Central City, about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. He has been looking for a public relations firm to tell his version of events because he maintains his innocence, Passarello said.

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