Rejoicing in death of a child? Nathan Halbach, Son abandoned by Father

Nathan Halbach has only several weeks to live before his 22 year old life ends. His battle with cancer is coming to an end. Nathan’s biological father is a Roman Catholic priest who chose to be an absent dad. The Roman Catholic Church has wished Nathan and his mother away. Nathan’s mom, Pat Bon, believes the church will rejoice when her son dies. If only they had followed President Obama’s advice ( on the ethic of responsibility: “What makes you a man is not the ability to have a child but the courage to raise one.” Nathan’s courageous life sheds a light on responsibility.

Nathan’s dad is Fr. Henry Wallenberg, a member of the Franciscan order of St. Francis of Assisi. As a young priest he fathered Nathan. After this family lived together for five years the Franciscans demanded a legal agreement with Nathan’s mother to separate the family and guarantee her silence. ( Surely not a pro-life move to break up and silence a family?

Pat Bond’s attempts to get support from the church for the exorbitant medical bills for Nathan’s cancer treatments were fruitless. Until the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) picked up on the story. It turns out that Nathan’s dad is facing allegations of abusing a female high school student. SNAP’s involvement resulted in yesterday’s announcement that the church would pay for Nathan’s burial expenses. How ironic.

Last night Pat Bond spoke on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 ( about how the church had wanted her and Nathan out of their lives. Speaking about the offer to pay for Nathan’s funeral expenses she said, “The day my son goes, the church will rejoice”. It seems incomprehensible to imagine that Pat Bond is correct. The thought of such rejoicing is vile. More so, because it is consistent with Pat’s experience. She is not looking for retributive justice. Will restorative justice be offered?

This is not a story about the merits, behavioral impacts or wisdom of celibacy. It is not a story of sexual abuse. Although it may raise those questions for many.

It is a story about the value that marked St. Francis’ life and for which he was hounded – love. Hundreds of years ago Francis wrote about imagining God coming to his house and asking for charity. Francis says he fell on his knees and asked what he might give. “Just love. Just love.” Pat and Henry had the love of a family destroyed by an imposed agreement. Nathan had no choice in this matter of love being turned in on destruction.

It is also a story about responsibility. President Obama’s Father’s Day remarks could be a study guide for institutions that are in the business of supporting life and families. It takes courage to raise a child. Abandoned by his own father, the President’s words are a call to be responsible for one another. Francis would have approved! He knew that words were no substitute for actions. For centuries, legions of Francis’ followers have lived by his rule of love and responsibility for all.

It is a story that co-joins love with responsibility. Like Obama, Nathan was abandoned by his father, Father Henry. Nothing will restore that loss. Like the President’s own mother, Pat Bond has been a single parent whose life reveals what responsibility means. The lack of responsibility on the part of the other players is jarring.

Is it possible that the legacy of Nathan’s all too short life will be a gift shining new light on responsibility? Francis would have approved. If that is so, there will not be rejoicing at his death, but profound thanks for a life of courageous responsibility.


Watch Robert V. Taylor discussing Ethics and Spirituality at:

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  1. Robert,
    Your writing on the struggle of Nathan’s family exposes the debate that so many are eager to claim “family values”. The Franciscan priest who could not face his responsibility as a father and the church that conspired to hide the truth show a life of fear and lies. The son is a victim of the Roman Catholic Church’s lost family values of compassion, love, and to be true to one self. Maybe the Roman Catholic Church’s should add “do as I say.NOT as I do” to their continued debate on “family values”
    I always enjoy your discussions. Thank you.

  2. I want to say someting but Greg Crick said it for me. I am so confused by the words vs. actions of those I disagree with. (with whom I disagree)

  3. Priest’s son passes; Sex abuse victims respond

    Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790 cell, 314 645 5915 home)

    In the short time I was privileged to know Nate, it was clear that he was a special young man wounded yet filled with kindness. Despite his pain both physical and emotional there wasn’t an ounce of bitterness in him. Fully aware of his deteriorating health, he talked of his plight openly but never complained. I’m sure in some ways, he was a typical young man. I, however, saw an extraordinarily mature, sensitive and caring young man whose compassion for others shone like a fresh full moon on a cloudless night.

    We call on the Catholic hierarchy to honor its commitment to pay for Nate’s funeral. We also hope church officials will provide counseling to his family and will permanently remove Fr. Willenborg from ministry while actively reaching out to others whom he hurt, especially those who are suffering, as Nate and his family did for so many years, in isolation and silence.

    Nate broke his silence in large part because he wanted to stop Willenborg and his supervisors from causing more pain and because he wanted those who were already hurt to know they weren’t alone. We share his wishes and again urge anyone who saw, suspected or suffered Willenborg’s crimes and misdeeds to come forward, get help, call police, protect others and start healing.

    (SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the nation’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 21 years and have more than 9,000 members across the country. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is

    Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, 314-645-5915 home), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747), Peter Isely (414-429-7259), Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688)

    Man Who Spoke About His Father Being a Priest Dies at 22

    By LAURIE GOODSTEIN – Published: November 29, 2009

    Nathan Halbach, who decided to speak out as he was terminally ill with brain cancer about how it felt to grow up knowing that his absentee father was a Roman Catholic priest, died at home in Missouri on Friday. He was 22.

    Skip to next paragraphMr. Halbach said he knew there were other children like him who had been fathered and abandoned by priests, but it was such a taboo to talk about it that he wanted to give them a voice.

    In an interview this summer at his home in O’Fallon, he said of his father: “He and my mom had a relationship and they were in love at the time, and they had me out of that relationship, but I never received any of that love at an age I could remember it. I have so few memories of him, I’ve met him so few times, it’s just not been what I had hoped for.”

    His father, the Rev. Henry Willenborg, was suspended from his position as a parish priest in Ashland, Wis., after an article in The New York Times in October revealed his liaisons with women. He was removed by Bishop Peter Christensen of the Diocese of Superior, who said he acted after reading that the priest had urged Mr. Halbach’s mother to have an abortion, and that another woman who said she had a relationship with Father Willenborg said she was a minor at the time.

    Father Willenborg, a Franciscan priest, could not be reached for comment. He said in September that he knew his son was terminally ill.

    The relationship between Pat Bond, Mr. Halbach’s mother, and Father Willenborg began 26 years ago. The Franciscans sent Father Willenborg to a center that treated priests for sexual and alcohol addictions and returned him to ministry.

    The Franciscans gave Mr. Halbach’s mother child support in an agreement that required her to keep silent. She and Mr. Halbach decided to break the confidentiality after the Franciscans declined to reimburse them for some expenses for a trip to New York City for cancer treatment.

    The Franciscans have said they covered more than they were required to by law. They have said they will cover the expenses for Mr. Halbach’s funeral.

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