To summarize: A Franciscan priest uses his office to seduce multiple women. He lives with at least one of them as husband in all but official name, and gets her pregnant (which he suggests ending with an abortion; she refuses), and has a son. He then scampers off and leaves both. The woman rattles the cage of the Catholic church and gets child support…as long as she signs a confidentiality agreement and promises to never mention the matter publicly. Now in her later years, she has cancer, and even worse, her son has cancer, and where’s good ol’ Father Willenborg? In a new diocese, acting as if it had never happened.
A few amoral, irresponsible individuals don’t ruin the reputation of an organization — they’re everywhere, even among atheists — but what does indict the church is their response to bad behavior. It’s the cover-up, stupid. It’s not just the demand for confidentiality, but that they continue to enable their sleazy playboy priest to go about his seductions with only an occasional finger-wag.
Clergy members of many faiths have crossed the line with women and had children out of wedlock. But the problem is particularly fraught for the Catholic Church, as Catholics in many countries are increasingly questioning the celibacy requirement for priests. Ms. Bond’s case offers a rare look at how the church goes to great lengths to silence these women, to avoid large settlements and to keep the priests in active ministry. She has 23 years of documents, depositions, correspondence, receipts and photographs relating to her case, which she has kept in meticulous files.
Those files reveal that the church was tightfisted with her as she tried to care for her son, particularly as his cancer treatments grew more costly. But they also show that Father Willenborg suffered virtually no punishment, continuing to serve in a variety of church posts.
And then there are the statistics.
A landmark study in 1990 by the scholar A. W. Richard Sipe, a former Benedictine, found that 20 percent of Catholic priests were involved in continuing sexual relationships with women, and an additional 8 percent to 10 percent had occasional heterosexual relationships.
I actually have some sympathy for the priests here: celibacy is an aberration for most people, and for the church to demand it is bound to induce or attract pathological individuals. But if they’re going to insist on it as a matter of dogma, at least be consistent and boot out priests that violate their doctrine; they’re obviously not suited for the job.
But I have no sympathy at all for Willenborg. He is a father — a literal father, more than the fake title he’s given as a priest — and that means he has certain moral responsibilities. Yet he ignores them, and thinks that having his religious order grudgingly sending an allowance fulfills his obligations to a very sick son.
Why would anyone expect him to tend to his duties to his religious flock if he is so aloof to his own true child?