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Children fathered by priests to sue Church
Published on 19 Apr. 2010 10:57 PM IST
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: When Pat Bond told her lover Henry Willenborg, a Franciscan priest, she was pregnant, and he urged her to have an abortion. Bond, who was 28, had a miscarriage, then became pregnant again. This time Willenborg’s superiors urged her to give up the child for adoption. Bond kept the child but agreed to a vow of silence. In a signed contract with the Catholic Church, she undertook to keep the priest’s identity secret in exchange for financial support for her son, Nathan.
In America, Britain, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy and Austria, women made pregnant by priests have signed such pledges in exchange for hush money from the Church. The Church, already reeling under a series of scandals, faces a new battle over the children of priests. Many former lovers and their offspring are preparing to mount lawsuits.
Bond was 25 when she started a five-year relationship with Willenborg in 1983, after going to him for marriage counselling. He kissed her passionately as she left his parlour, she left her husband. After Bond became pregnant for the second time in 1986, Willenborg’s order, the Order of Friars Minor, offered her $50,000 and a confidentiality contract. “They said: ‘Take this money, sign this contract and you’ll have support for your child’. I signed,” said Bond. She broke her vow last year after the Franciscans refused to meet part of the cost of treatment for Nathan, then 22, who died in November from a brain tumour.
When Willenborg’s liaisons with Bond, now 53, and another woman became public, the priest was suspended from his parish in Ashland, Wisconsin.
He was treated for sex addiction, then returned to his pastoral duties. Catherine Schroeder, a St Louis lawyer for the Order of Friars Minor, declined to comment. Willenborg and the order failed to return calls and emails. Other cases are reaching the American courts. In Maryland, two children of the late Father Francis Ryan are filing a lawsuit against their local archdiocese and a religious order for $10 million after discovering through DNA tests that he was their father.
Carla Latty, 58, and Adrian Senna, 65, say Ryan never admitted he was their father or made any payments to their late mother. Senna was sent to an orphanage, while Latty was put up for adoption.
Cait Finnegan, of the Good Tidings association, an American charity for priests and their lovers, has been contacted by nearly 2,000 women who had relationships with priests. She said one pregnant friend had been told by a bishop to “get rid of the child” — a comment she took to mean she should have an abortion.
The woman kept the baby.
Thousands of priests in German-speaking countries are believed to have fathered children. Paul Zuhlener, an Austrian theologian, has estimated that up to 22% of Austrian priests have sexual relationships.
In Britain, Adrianna Alsworth, who has two children by a priest and runs the Sonflowers helpline for those who have had relationships with priests, said she knew of several women who had been offered confidentiality contracts in return for child support. “The children aren’t given an opportunity to have a normal family life, and they suffer,” she said.

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