Priest Wanted in U.S. Missing in Italy
Cleric Cited in News Story Was Recently Ordered to Face Charges
By Reese Dunklin
August 1, 2006
A fugitive Catholic priest who lived a block from the Vatican vanished days before Italian authorities ordered his return to the U.S. to face charges he sexually abused young boys.
The Rev. Joseph Henn was one of seven priests that The Dallas Morning News found in Rome in 2004 as part of yearlong investigation into how accused clerics moved from country to country to escape justice, often with the Catholic Church's help.
Father Henn had refused to return to Phoenix, where he is wanted on charges of abusing three boys in the 1980s. He spent the last year under house arrest at his religious order's world headquarters in Rome while the Italian government considered a U.S. extradition request.
The priest disappeared about two weeks ago while awaiting a ruling from the Italian Supreme Court, said his American superiors in the Society of the Divine Savior religious order. Under terms of his house arrest, he could venture out only to visit his doctor or lawyer, according to Catholic News Service, which reported the court's ruling last Friday.
Father Henn's order said in a statement that it did not know his whereabouts and was "surprised and saddened at the sudden disappearance."
"The society also in no way supports what appears to be this decision on Father Henn's part to leave without authorization and in violation of the regulations of his house arrest," the order said.
When The News interviewed Father Henn briefly in 2004, he dismissed the abuse allegations as old and appeared frustrated. "I was hoping the lawyers had worked to make sure that everything was sort of finished," he said.
After Father Henn was indicted in 2003, prosecutors at the Maricopa County attorney's office in Phoenix wrote the Vatican's secretariat of state to ask for help in returning the priest from Rome. Their request was refused.
Prosecutors then sought, through the U.S. Justice Department, the priest's extradition from Italy.
A Maricopa County attorney spokesman said Monday that his office had no comment. Officials at the Justice Department and the U.S. Embassy in Rome could not be reached Monday.
A leading American victims' advocate said the priest's disappearance, just as the criminal investigation was on the verge of a breakthrough, "must be heartbreaking for Henn's victims."
"From day one, his superiors should have said, 'You comply with the law or we're cutting you off,' " said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "Their complicity clearly gave Henn years to plan and pull off his getaway."
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