Rev. Henry V. Willenborg, o.f.m.

Summary of Case: Willenborg was suspended from ministry in October 2009 after the New York Times reported that he had been sexually involved with a high school aged girl in the 1980s. He also had a five year involvement with a woman who gave birth to his son in 1987. The Franciscans provided some financial support for the boy in exchange for his mother's silence. She broke her silence when the boy developed terminal cancer and the Franciscans refused to pay for some of his treatment. The son died at the age of 22 in November 2009.

: 1976


Start Stop Assignment Town/Accusations State Position Notes


Springfield bishop was Joseph Alphonse McNicholas (1975-1983) followed by Daniel Leo Ryan (1983-1989)

1987 Our Lady of Angels Franciscan Seminary, College Division


Willenborg became sexually involved in 1983 with a woman who had come to him for marriage counseling.

Another young woman surfaced during this time to say that she had been sexually involved with Willenborg for years, beginning when she was in high school. (New York Times
October 15, 2009)

IL Director of Apostolic Formation 1976-1977, Spiritual Director 1977-1978, Acting Director of Franciscan Formation 1978-1979, Director of Spiritual Formation 1980-1983, Assistant Superior 1980-1983, Vice Rector 1982-1983, Superior Rector 1983-1986, Director of Formation 1986-1987 The woman became pregnant and Willenborg encouraged her to have an abortion, which she refused.That pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. A child was born to the woman and Willenborg in 1987. Willenborg was involved with the baby for eight months. The Franciscans provided some financial support to the mother of his child until he turned 21. In exchange, the woman signed a confidentiality agreement.


Feb. 1988 residential treatment    

Willenborg is not indexed nor is he listed at his previous or subsequent assignments in the 1988 Directory.

He was sent by the Franciscans to a treatment center for troubled priests in New Mexico after the second woman came forward. (New York Times
October 15, 2009)


New Orleans archbishop was Francis Bilble Schulte (1988-2002)

1993 Franciscan Fraternity (Tau House) New Orleans LA 3/3 Willenborg worked with AIDS patients.


Chicago archbishop was Joseph Louis Bernadin (1982-1996), followed by Francis Eugene George, O.M.I. (1997-)

1999 Franciscans Chicago IL Vocations Director Willenborg is not indexed nor is he listed at his previous or subsequent assignments in the 1994-1999 Directories. He is said to have been in Chicago, working with candidates for the Franciscan order.


St. Louis archbishop was Justin Francis Rigali (1994-2003), followed by Raymond Leo Burke (2003-2008)

2005 Franciscan Friary of St. Anthony of Padua St. Louis MO Director of the Office of Friar Formation Willenborg's son met him for the first time at age 13. He didn't see him again for another two years, even though Willenborg lived nearby. The disappointed boy told Willenborg he no longer wanted to see him.


Superior bishop was Raphael Michael Fliss (1985-2007), who was succeeded by Peter Forsyth Christensen (2007-)

2009 Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Community Ashland WI 1/2

Parish had a pre-kindergarden through grade 8 school with 154-113 students. and a religious education program with 234-182 students.

Willenborg's son developed brain cancer while in college. Willenborg sent him a card. The boy's mother also developed cancer. She sought financial help from the Franciscans for medical bills. She broke the confidentiality agreement because the Franciscans refused to cover some of the cancer treatment. (River Front Times
October 19, 2009)

Willenborg was suspended from his duties as a priest in Oct. 2009 after the New York Times reported that he had been sexually involved with a high school girl twenty years earlier (Duluth News Tribune
October 16, 2009), and because the Times reported that Willenborg wanted the first woman to have an abortion. (The New York Times
October 17, 2009)

Willenborg's son died in Nov. 2009, at the age of 22. The Franciscans agreed to pay for his funeral. (New York Times
November 29, 2009)

: Official Catholic Directory (New York: P.J. Kenedy and Sons, 1977-2009)

Priests in a Parish: We use the following convention to show a priest's place among the clergy of a parish: 1/2 means that he is the first priest listed in the Official Catholic Directory (usually the pastor) and that there is a total of two priests at the parish. The shorthand 3/4 means that the priest is listed third on a four-priest roster. See our sample page from the Directory.

Note: The Official Catholic Directory aims to report the whereabouts of Catholic priests in the United States on January 1 of the Directory's publication year. Our working assumption is that a priest listed in the Directory for a given year was at the same assignment for part of the previous year as well. However, Kenedy and Sons will sometimes accept updates well into the year of publication. Diocesan clergy records are rarely available to correct this information. The Directory is also sometimes misleading or wrong. We have tried to create an accurate assignment record, given the source materials and their limitations. Assignment records are a work in progress and we are always improving the records that we post. Please email us with new information and corrections.

This assignment record collates Willenborg's career history as it is represented in the Official Catholic Directory with allegations as reported in the media. We make no representation regarding the truth of the allegation we report, and we remind our readers that the U.S. legal system presumes that a person accused of or charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty. Similarly, individuals who may be defendants in civil actions are presumed not to be liable for such claims unless a plaintiff proves otherwise. Admissions of guilt or liability are not typically a part of civil or private settlements. For more information, see our posting policy.

This assignment record was last updated on July 8, 2010