The lawyer for a fugitive American priest wanted in the United States on charges of sexually molesting boys urged an Italian court on Friday not to send his client home because he risked being killed in prison.
The Rev. Joseph Henn, 56, wanted by authorities in Arizona since 2003, has been living under house arrest at the headquarters of his religious order in Rome.
"If he is extradited to America he risks his life because prisoners in Arizona do not like priests accused of pedophilia," attorney Michele Gentiloni Silverij told reporters at an extradition hearing.
Henn, who has dismissed the charges against him, was not present at the hearing.
U.S. authorities want him extradited to face charges of molesting three boys when he worked in a parish in Phoenix diocese in the 1980s.
The Roman Catholic Church in the United States has been rocked by a priestly sexual abuse scandal that began in Boston in 2002, when it emerged that priests who had abused children and teenagers were transferred from parish to parish instead of being defrocked.
As the scandal swept across the United States the finances of many American dioceses have been hit by multimillion-dollar lawsuits by those claiming to have been molested by priests when they were children or teenagers. The next hearing in Henn's case was scheduled for Jan 26 so the court can receive more documents from the United States.