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 (http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0609/23931.html) 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. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/16/us/16priest.html?pagewanted=all) 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 (http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0911/10/acd.02.html) 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.
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Watch Robert V. Taylor discussing Ethics and Spirituality at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFU0-hDSVpQ&feature=player_embedded#