Italian Officials Arrest U.S. Priest Wanted on Molestation Charges

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service [Rome]
July 18, 2005

ROME (CNS) -- A U.S. priest belonging to the Salvatorian order was arrested in Rome July 16 following a request by the U.S. Justice Department that he be extradited to face child molestation charges in Arizona.

Italian authorities placed Father Joseph J. Henn, 56, under house arrest at the headquarters of the Society of the Divine Savior because he refused to cooperate with the extradition request, said Michele Gentiloni, the priest's Italian lawyer.

Gentiloni told Catholic News Service July 18 that the terms of Father Henn's house arrest -- that he may leave the order's headquarters only to see his lawyer or his doctor -- are the same conditions imposed on him two years ago by his Salvatorian superiors in Rome.

The lawyer said Father Henn has been living at the Salvatorian headquarters near St. Peter's Basilica "for seven or eight years."

Repeated attempts to reach officials at the headquarters July 18 were unsuccessful.

Father Henn's lawyer said that although he is awaiting the official documents listing the charges, he knows his client faces accusations of molesting at least three boys, ages 14 and 15, between 1979 and 1981 when Father Henn was living and working in Phoenix.

In 2003, Arizona's Maricopa County indicted him on 13 counts related to child molestation.

"The only reason he is opposing extradition is that currently in American prisons a Catholic priest's life would be in serious danger," the lawyer said.

"He would accept facing trial in the United States because he is innocent, but he fears for his physical safety," he said.

The lawyer said U.S. prosecutors must submit to Italian officials a detailed description of the charges Father Henn faces. Once the papers arrive, a hearing will be held to determine if what Father Henn is accused of doing is a crime under Italian law, if the crimes are still prosecutable under Italian statutes of limitation and if U.S.-Italian extradition treaties cover those crimes.

"We know he is accused of 'child molestation,' but that is not a specific charge," Gentiloni said. Various acts considered abuse under U.S. law may not necessarily be considered crimes in Italy.

In connection with the opening of the conclave that elected Pope Benedict XVI in April, members of a U.S. advocacy and support group for abuse survivors delivered a letter to the superior of the Salvatorians asking that Father Henn be ordered to return to the United States to face trial.

A representative of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, spoke briefly April 15 with a Salvatorian priest at the order's headquarters, but the priest said he could not comment on whether Father Henn was living in Rome.


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