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Father and Son

October 18, 2009 Religion, Sunday Poll 8 Comments

It is nice to see the St. Louis region make the New York Times, although of late it has done so for less than positive reasons (Limbaugh/Rams).  The latest brings up interesting issues:

O’FALLON, Mo. – With three small children and her marriage in trouble, Pat Bond attended a spirituality retreat for Roman Catholic women in Illinois 26 years ago in hopes of finding support and comfort.What Ms. Bond found was a priest – a dynamic, handsome Franciscan friar in a brown robe – who was serving as the spiritual director for the retreat and agreed to begin counseling her on her marriage. One day, she said, as she was leaving the priest’s parlor, he pulled her aside for a passionate kiss.

Ms. Bond separated from her husband, and for the next five years she and the priest, the Rev. Henry Willenborg, carried on an intimate relationship, according to interviews and court documents. In public, they were both leaders in their Catholic community in Quincy, Ill. In private they functioned like a married couple, sharing a bed, meals, movie nights and vacations with the children.

Eventually they had a son, setting off a series of legal battles as Ms. Bond repeatedly petitioned the church for child support. The Franciscans acquiesced, with the stipulation that she sign a confidentiality agreement. It is now an agreement she is willing to break as both she and her child, Nathan Halbach, 22, are battling cancer.  (full story, A Mother, a Sick Son and His Father, the Priest)

Let me state for the record that not only am I not Catholic, I don’t believe in a deity.  My thoughts here will be brief because this isn’t about my views.  I want to get your thoughts.

I believe the requirement that Catholic priests be celibate is the root of the problems they often have with women and/or children.   Male celibacy just isn’t natural. Where do I, a non-believer, get off making such a statement?

Victims of abuse have used the courts to seek resolution.  Once an issue leaves a church and enters a civil court it becomes fair game.  The Catholic Church should permit priests to marry, to have normal adult relationships.  This is the question in one of two polls this week (see right sidebar).

– Steve Patterson


Currently there are "8 comments" on this Article:

  1. Mike F says:

    Quincy is 130 miles away, 2 to 3 hours driving. No way can it be considered part of the St. Louis region. Not sure why you plucked this story out.

    [slp — The story originates out of O’Fallon Missouri where the mom & son now live.]

  2. kc says:

    I don’t think that celibacy is the root of problems. This particular man was not constrained by “living as though married”, he slept with yet another woman. It is an abuse of power, akin to a psychiatrist/psychologist, college professor, etc. conducting a relationship with a patient or student. I think there are some men who are attracted to the priesthood for the wrong reasons — the power, prestige, the cover for homosexuality or pedophilia (you don’t HAVE to want to be in a heterosexual relationship if you are a priest), just like there are people who are become politicians, doctors, etc. for the power and prestige and subsequently abuse it. The abuse of the power does not mean celibacy is the problem even if the abuse involve breaking that vow, it means that there is an abuse of power. And in this story it was perpetrated at many levels by many people.

    Removing the requirement for celibacy might help resolve some of those instances (thinking Fr. Oprah) but more likely would just dilute the population. But allowing for marriage, and even partnerships, cohabitation, etc., in the field of psychiatry/psychology and academia (I’ve pick those 2 fields out because there is a similar dynamic between them and “laity”), hasn’t eliminated the occurrence of what are essentially abusive relationships, neither would it with the priesthood. I think that these stories are particularly salacious and plays into some’s desire to have proof that that way of living is “unnatural” but similar stories that don’t involve vows of celibacy raise nary an eyebrow.

  3. Fenian says:


    I know that the source of this report has an agenda, but the citations are all legitimate.

    Is sexual abuse among priests a problem? Yes, it definitely was in the past and continues to be. In the context of all sexual abuse, it is no where near as large a problem as the media or SNAP would have you believe, but it is a problem. It is shameful and changes have occurred and are still being made.

    Furthermore, in regard to celibacy the issue has been decided. It will never change. There is a vocal minority that wants married priests, female ordinations and other things that are not part of the magisterium. But that is all they are, a minority. These individuals would be happy with an Episcopalian church, but they wish to change something that most adherents are happy with. The Catholic Church is not attempting to win a popularity contest in today’s society. If you dislike some of the Church’s positions, I can understand why you may feel that way. However, there are some things like celibacy and women’s ordinations that will never change, no matter how much some disagree.

  4. Greg says:

    No, the Catholic Church should not allow the priest to marry if they don’t want to. That rule is there for every man choosing to enter the seminary to see. That man then decides to either follow that rule and become a Priest or not.

    Who are we to say that “Male celibacy just isn’t natural”? That statement is not a fact, it’s an opinion, and it’s only fits the person saying it and because of the example being used. There are countless Men/Priest for whom we have no reason to believe have done anything but give their life to God and remain celibate.

    A priest being able to marry would solve this one example. It’s a FAR stretch to say that it would solve the abuse cases which you squeezed into the end of the post. I don’t think it’s fair to lump the two together. They are both abuses of power and both wrong on every level, but the abuses of a few should not dictate the policy for a whole Church. There are many good Priest out in the world that have no problem abiding by this rule.

  5. stlzou says:

    Clerical celibacy is not a public policy issue. I don’t really know why it’s up here. Besides, sexual abuse in the priesthood is not the result of something intrinsically wrong with the priesthood, rather it is something wrong with individuals who became priests and abused their position. Yes it is abhorrent that the Church allowed men such as this to become ordained in the first place and for often covering these incidents up so that they were sure to happen again, but you can’t hold the Catholic Church any more responsible for abusers within their ranks than you can for the presence of abusers everywhere else. Yes reforms within the Catholic Church need to be made to ensure that these incidents do not happen, but this lies in greater screening and discernment in the seminaries, greater oversight and support for men who are having problems, and greater leadership among those in high places. There are perfectly good reasons for the Catholic Church’s decision for clerical celibacy. There are also perfectly good reasons for the Episcopalean and Lutheran Church’s decision to allow clerics to marry. Neither decisions are because of one is more “natural” than the other.

    I appreciate your blog and the debate this site often brings, but I have to say that whenever you delve into religious issues I always wish you hadn’t. It’s perfectly fine to share your opinions about any topic-hey it’s your blog- but your posts about religion usually seem biased, uninformed, and unacademic. Keep up the good work you do for urban issues.

    [slp — thanks for the feedback.]

  6. Anonymous says:

    There are three parts to this discussion, celibacy, the abuse of position and the conditions of the legal settlement. Obviously, the abuse of position was and is wrong, whether one is “celibate”, or not. The original legal settlement addressed the abuse, apparently to the satisfaction of all involved; revisiting it now is much like buyer’s remorse – we all make decisions we may later regret, but wanting to reopen discussions now, unilaterally, isn’t fair to the other half of a legal, binding agreement.

    Finally, is the issue of celibacy itself. While I agree with the other posters that it’s essentially a “private” issue within a private institution, I’ve also had direct experience with my uncle, a priest, falling in love with a widow, marrying her and having a wonderful life until she passed away a couple of years ago. Yes, he had to leave the priesthood, and yes, I’m no longer a practicing Catholic. My take on celibacy is a complex one. It’s driving dedicated (and not predatory) priests out of the ministry. It’s making it much harder to attract hetero-leaning young men into the seminaries (my uncle entered the seminary at the end of the Depression). And it’s created a situation where the priesthood has become a place where (more than?) a few men can hide in direct contradiction to church teachings, since being unmarried is the fundamental expectation.

    Pedophiles, who would have a difficult time in a normal marriage, have been exposed multiple times, at great and growing financial cost to the church. Gay priests don’t cost the church money (in settlements), but they create a dynamic where the closet is the only option for their continued ministry. They have to make the same hard decisions between love and vocation, much like married priests. And yes, the discussion of the church’s position on homosexuality is also a “private” one; my point is that the implications of the church’s positions are very similar. The church is struggling with a growing gap between supply and demand for priests. My uncle was a good, dedicated priest, whose only sin was falling in love, with a woman, no less. Losing him and his dedication isn’t that much different than the insanity of don’t ask, don’t tell in the military. His private life has very little to do with his vocation, yet because his private life didn’t match the expectaions of the majority, he was expected to leave.

    By taking narrow, arbitrary positions on a wide range of issues, the church does three things. It creates a very defined “rule book” (catechism), it makes it increasingly difficult for many Americans to feel comfortable in remaining in the church, and it makes it more difficult for “otherwise good” men to stay in the ministry. Should the church change because I and many others think they should (as a person who grew up in the newfound freedoms of Vactican II, only to see the current swing back to more-traditional values)? I don’t know and I don’t really care – they’re making their decisions for their reasons, and they’re going to grow or shrink because of them. Both I and my uncle have made the difficult decision to look elsewhere, and I think it’s been the church’s loss.


  7. john Freel says:

    According to a survey by the national council of Churches, priests are no more likely to abuse parishioners sexually than Rabbis, and LESS than ministers. They just get slammed harder when they are caught by the media.

  8. Mac says:

    You're right SLP, celibacy is NOT normal and neither are the folks who believe in “the talking snake theories” of the world and indoctrinated their children with their wacky, out of this world, Santa Claus style beliefs.

    The times are changing though. More people than ever recognize religion for what it is–NOTHING.

    “Religion makes a virtue out of not thinking.” Bil Maher


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