Fugitive Catholic Priest Flees US Extradition

By David Schwartz
August 2, 2006

Phoenix (Reuters) - A fugitive Catholic priest ordered back to Phoenix from Rome to face child sex charges has vanished, authorities in Arizona said on Wednesday.

The Rev. Joseph Henn, 57, could not be found at the headquarters of his religious order in the Italian capital when authorities arrived with an extradition order issued by the Italian Supreme Court, Arizona prosecutors said.

Henn, accused of molesting three boys from 1979-1981, had been under house arrest for the last year at the Society of the Divine Savior and was trying to block his return to Phoenix when he disappeared about two weeks ago, they said.

"Joseph Henn has consistently thumbed his nose at lawful authority," Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas said. "This latest act of defiance underscores his disrespect for the law. He can run, but he can't hide. He will be apprehended and justice will be done."

Italian authorities were looking for Henn and officials were seeking a warrant from Interpol, Thomas said.

Henn was indicted on 13 felony counts of child molestation and sexual conduct with a minor in 2003. The charges stemmed from his service at St. Mark's Parish in Phoenix. Prosecutors said he moved to Rome to escape prosecution.

During court proceedings in Italy last year, his lawyer said the priest risked being killed in prison if he were returned to Arizona. But last week the Italian Supreme Court issued the extradition order.

Paul Pfaffenberger, Arizona leader for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, called Henn "a coward, who is refusing to face his accusers and face justice for what he did."

He also accused Henn's religious order of harboring the suspect. A statement by the society in Milwaukee said officials did not support Henn's "sudden disappearance" and did not know where he was.

Henn is the ninth Phoenix-area priest to face sex abuse charges, part of a sweeping church scandal that began in Boston in 2002. In its wake, the church has seen its public image battered and its finances hit hard by multimillion-dollar settlements and judgments.


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