Why we don’t trust church investigations
He’s accused of molesting a teen, impregnating an adult parishioner twice, suggested an abortion, fathering a child and ignoring that child.
Catholic officials say they’re investigating all of this alleged wrongdoing by Fr. Henry Willenborg.
Here’s the rub: they’ve been doing so since 2009.
As best we can tell, there’s been no conclusion or announcement or even an update.
It’s been almost seven years.
No one knows where Fr. Willenborg is now (except, of course, his church supervisors and colleagues). No one knows whether church officials have deemed him innocent or guilty of these serious charges. No one knows if church officials have
Recently, Fr. William C. Graham of the Duluth diocese questioned why our SNAP leader there, Verne Wagner, is so skeptical about so-called church abuse “investigations.”
The Willenborg case is Exhibit A for our skepticism.
It bears noting that even if the St. Louis-based Franciscan province, which pays and supervises Fr. Willenborg directly, refuses to act responsibly, there’s nothing to prevent bishops who have let Fr. Willenborg work in their dioceses launch investigations. He’s spent time in Superior Wisconsin and Springfield Illinois. Wouldn’t it be encouraging to hear that Superior Bishop-elect James Powers or Springfield Bishop Thomas Paprocki say “The Franciscans are acting recklessly. Since they’re evidently not investigating, or doing so secretively, I’m starting my own investigation.”
And let us take this opportunity to again praise Pat Bond. She’s one of the adults who was sexually exploited by Fr. Willenborg. He was the biological father to Nathan, Pat’s dear son who tragically passed away in 2009, at the age of 22, from a brain tumor, after a life of being ignored and rebuffed by his callous and irresponsible dad and his dad’s callous and irresponsible Catholic colleagues and supervisors. Thankfully, Nate got tons of love from his brave, kind and steadfast mom and sisters.
We are very grateful that Pat was strong, courageous and compassionate enough to expose Fr. Willenborg and his Franciscan enablers. We are confident that her courage has kept Fr. Willenborg from sexually victimizing others. But parishioners and the public will only be truly safe from this predators when Catholic officials act as bravely as Pat has acted and use their vast resources to warn others about him.
50 State AG Call for Grand Jury
Any investigation must be:
- independent of and separate from the church
- must have subpoena powers and ability to compel testimony under oath
Anything short of these criteria is a sham and whitewash.
In addition, write letters to the editor, make phone calls to politicians as they can apply pressure to keep them responsive to our demand. We need to make efforts to ensure that they follow up on what the state is doing to investigate these crimes.
The Attorneys General of forty states have inquired about the grand jury process in Pennsylvania. Let's get statewide investigations going in fifty states.
Note to Letter Writers
Use your own words and style of writing. Cut and paste from the templates as you wish. Include your experiences, whether as a survivor or as a member of the community. And relate your letter to the state you were abused in or state now living in.