Paedophile Priest on the Run
Father Henn Flees Rome to Avoid Extradition to US

August 3, 2006

(ANSA) - Rome, August 3 - An American priest who is wanted in the United States on child molestation charges has gone missing while under house arrest in Rome .

Father Joseph Henn, who was indicted in 2003 for allegedly molesting three boys in Phoenix, Arizona in 1976-80, fled his lodgings near the Vatican a fortnight ago. On July 27, Italy's Supreme Court gave the green light to an American extradition request for the 57-year-old priest .

Henn had resisted extradition, arguing that he was innocent and that he feared for his life if sent to jail in Arizona .

The Italian judicial authorities discovered that he had disappeared when they arrived at his home to notify him of the Supreme Court's decision .

The runaway priest is a member of the Salvatorian Order .

He was already working in Rome when he received the 13-count indictment from Arizona judicial authorities .

His order subsequently placed him on restricted duty and in July 2005, Italian magistrates ordered that he be put under house arrest .

Henn is accused of targeting three boys, all aged under 15 at the time, including an altar boy whom he is alleged to have serially molested. Henn is accused of abusing the altar boy while he served at St. Mark's Parish in Phoenix, Arizona from 1976-79 .

The boy was 12 at the time the alleged abuse began .

It is also claimed that then-Bishop of Arizona, Thomas O'Brien, reassigned Henn when he was informed of the allegations, thereby endangering other children .

O'Brien resigned in disgrace in June 2003 following his arrest for leaving the scene of a fatal hit-and-run accident. Shortly before his resignation, he admitted to prosecutors that he had protected paedophile priests by covering up allegations against them and transferring them .

Henn was charged by Arizona's Maricopa County court in 2003 with nine counts of child molestation, one count of attempted sexual conduct with a minor, one count of attempted child molestation, and one count of sexual conduct with a minor. Maricopa Court Attorney Andrew Thomas told reporters recently that "Henn can run but he can't hide. He will be caught and justice will be done" .

The US Catholic Church has been crippled by lawsuits and payouts following a paedophile scandal which erupted in Boston in 2002 and subsequently spread to other Catholic dioceses in the country .

Public anger was fuelled by the admission that American bishops in some cases simply moved priests known to be guilty of child abuse from one parish to another instead of defrocking them .

Similar scandals have erupted in other countries, including Australia, Ireland and Canada .

In 2004, the Vatican published a new handbook for its bishops all over the world, including a chapter on how they should deal with paedophile priests .

The handbook repeats the line taken by the Vatican in the wake of the scandals, namely that bishops should react to proven episodes with "firmness and decision" but also with human "charity" .

In some countries, the Church has begun reforming seminary training to provide candidates for the priesthood with training to deal with a life of celibacy and sexual abstention. Homosexuality within the clergy has also come under scrutiny. In November 2005, The Vatican issued a document barring sexually active gays and people with deep homosexual tendencies from the priesthood .

The five-page set of instructions, approved by Pope Benedict XVI, was intended primarily for bishops and seminaries. "The Church, while respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to a seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, show deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or support so-called 'gay culture'," it said.


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