Victim: Abuse by Priest Haunting

By Michael Clancy
Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
November 15, 2003

Richard Rivezzo, a successful executive with the Mattel Toy Co., said that when he tries to make sense of what happened to him 25 years ago, he thinks about the toy business.

When a company has a defective product, it makes sure everyone knows about it, takes the toys back, refunds the money and either fixes the toy or discontinues it.

It does not deny responsibility and send the toy to another store to risk harming another child.

From his professional vantage point, he cannot understand why the Roman Catholic Church has not behaved in the same way.

Rivezzo believes the Rev. Joseph Henn abused him at least a dozen times when Henn was associate pastor and Rivezzo was an altar boy at St. Mark's Parish in central Phoenix.

Henn served at St. Mark's from 1978-82.

The diocese, Rivezzo said, enabled Henn to work here and sent him to his next assignment without telling anyone about his abusive background.

In a 90-minute interview Friday in Phoenix, the 39-year-old California resident talked about a civil lawsuit he has filed against the diocese and former Bishop Thomas J. O'Brien and a criminal indictment against Henn. Rivezzo is one of at least six individuals with civil lawsuits pending against the diocese and O'Brien, and one of more than a dozen victims named in criminal indictments against six priests, two of which have resulted in convictions and prison terms.

The priest, a member of the Salvatorian religious order, is suspended from public ministry and is living in Rome, where he has worked for three years at the headquarters of the order.

Rivezzo said the abuse began "almost immediately" upon Henn's arrival at the church and did not stop until Rivezzo attempted suicide at age 18, about the same time his parents heard from others that Henn might be an abuser.

About a month after Rivezzo's parents reported Henn to the parish pastor, Henn was reassigned.

Rivezzo said his parents were concerned only that their son was safe, and they never followed up on the abuse allegations. Nor did Rivezzo himself, he said, because he had blocked out the memories so well.

Rivezzo said his life had been going well except for occasional bad dreams. But that changed in May, when an investigator from the Maricopa County Attorney's Office called and asked whether Henn had behaved inappropriately with Rivezzo.

"The call catapulted me into a whirlwind of memories I wasn't prepared to handle," Rivezzo said.

Rivezzo answers most questions without emotion, but his eyes fill with tears when asked why he suppressed his memories and didn't report Henn's behavior at the time.

"He was a priest, and he built a friendship with me," Rivezzo said. "I was a skinny, wallflower-type of kid," small for his age, shy and nervous. He also was going through puberty and dealing with his emerging sexuality. The Catholic Church occupied a central part of his family life.

"Why didn't I do something about this then? He had built such a trust. I had to ask myself, am I doing something wrong, or is the church wrong? I couldn't stop it because I didn't know how to.

"I blocked it out, and I got good at blocking it out."

But he is not blocking it any more, with a therapist's help. He said he is telling his story publicly because he wants people, especially parents, to know that abuse by priests "is still happening." He said he wants victims to know about the assistance available to them.

Finally, he said, he wants the diocese to take responsibility for allowing Henn to work in Phoenix and for failing to detail his background when he was reassigned to a high school in California.

As for Henn, Rivezzo said, "I hope he takes responsibility, admits what happened and admits it was wrong.

"I hope he gets help, and if he needs to be in jail to get it, so be it."


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