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

By Laurie Goodstein
New York Times
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.

Mr. 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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