Order's Handling of Accused Priest Angers Victim Group
He Has Fled House Arrest in Italy; Superior Says They Did Their Best
By Tom Heinen email@example.com
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel [Wisconsin]
August 18, 2006
The whereabouts of a priest who once served at a Wauwatosa parish remained unknown Friday, more than a month after he apparently fled house arrest in Rome as Italian authorities were preparing to extradite him to the United States to face sexual molestation charges in Arizona.
Interpol issued a warrant for the arrest of Father Joseph Henn and is actively searching for him in Europe, said Father Dave Bergner, the provincial superior, or head, of Salvatorian priests and brothers in the U.S. The order, of which Henn is a member, will tell authorities if it learns where he is, Bergner added.
Bergner, recently installed as provincial superior and facing his first full week on the job at his Milwaukee office after a month in Spain, got a baptism under fire.
On the one hand, there was additional controversy Thursday as local leaders of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests sent him an e-mail that was sharply critical of the order and tried unsuccessfully to contact him at the door of the order's west side offices. They said they telephoned him and rang the doorbell. Bergner said that he heard no bell and believed SNAP leaders had changed their minds.
On the other hand, Bergner said in an interview that he had great empathy for victims of clergy sexual abuse and would support legislative efforts in Wisconsin to permit victims to sue dioceses and other religious organizations no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. That position surprised SNAP leaders.
"Justice is still justice," said Bergner, who has a background as a clinical social worker. "Even more important is professional counseling and reconciliation with their past as well as the church. That's what we are going to try to move forward on."
Bergner, however, resisted a call by the victims group for the religious order to reveal the names and addresses of all of its priests who have had a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor made against them. He said that such allegations go back decades, that those priests have been removed from ministry and are aged or dead, and that it would be harmful to their family members to make that information public now.
Earlier Thursday, local leaders of the victims group said that the Salvatorians did not do enough to make Henn return to the U.S. while he was living and working under house arrest at the order's worldwide headquarters near the Vatican.
Bergner said that the Salvatorians had strongly urged Henn not to fight extradition and had done everything possible under church law and civil law to pressure him to return to face his accusers.
"He gave no hint to anybody in the community that he was planning or even thinking about absconding," Bergner said in an interview.
"We feel, because his lawyer was working closely with the (Italian) courts in fighting this extradition, Father Henn probably got tipped off by his attorney. That attorney is not our attorney. We don't pay for that. . . . We thought he would be there no matter how that court ruling would turn out in Italy and would follow it."
That was not enough to mollify the victims group.
Peter Isely, SNAP's Midwest director, termed the order's actions a "catastrophic failure to monitor" Henn.
In an exchange of e-mails with Bergner on Thursday, Isely wrote, "You fed him, you housed him and you paid him, all the while knowing that he was wanted on 13 counts of felony child assault. Then, instead of stripping him of his ordination, cutting off his living arrangements and ordering him onto an airplane back to the United States, you 'urged' him to return to our country. . . . Who's in charge of your order? You and the other provincials, or the clerical sex offenders?"
Henn was indicted in Arizona by a Maricopa County grand jury on July 24, 2003. At the time, Bergner said, Henn had been removed from active ministry for years and was working in a position with limited public contact in Rome.
Henn fought extradition, but the Italian Supreme Court issued a ruling this past July 27 that he be extradited to the U.S.
Henn, however, had been missing since June 30, Bergner said. Bergner recalled that date because it was the day Bergner was installed as the order's newly elected U.S. provincial.
There are no known allegations of sexual abuse against Henn in Wisconsin. He served part-time at St. Pius X Parish in Wauwatosa from December 1986 to May 1987, and then served as associate pastor from June 1987 to July 1989.
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