Fugitive Catholic priest flees US extradition
By David Schwartz
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.