VATICAN CITY – The Legion of Christ religious order, still reeling from 2009revelations that its late founder was a pedophile who fatheredthree children, was hit Tuesday by another scandal after its mostwell-known priest admitted he had fathered a child several yearsago. The Rev. Thomas Williams, a moral theologian and prominent Americanauthor, lecturer and television personality, said in a statement hewas "deeply sorry for this grave transgression" against his vows ofcelibacy. He said he would be taking a year off to reflect on whathe had done and his commitment to the priesthood. |
The revelation immediately raised questions about when Williams'superiors knew of the existence of the child, given that the birthoccurred several years ago and that Williams, a former superior ofthe order's Rome headquarters, has never stopped speaking out onissues of moral conscience. A Legion spokesman said the order haddecided not to disclose when it learned about his child. Williams' admission was issued after The Associated Press last weekpresented the Legion with the allegation against Williams, whichwas lodged by a Spanish association of Legion victims. Theassociation's accusations, sent to the Legion and Vatican severalweeks ago, also named other Legion priests accused of sexuallyabusing minors.
Williams, who was not accused of abuse, said that "a number ofyears ago" he had a relationship with a woman and fathered herchild. He didn't identify the mother and didn't say whether therelationship was over. He also did not identify the gender or sayif he was helping to support the child. The Legion has been beset by scandal following revelations that itslate founder, the Rev.
Marciel Maciel, fathered three children withtwo women and sexually abused his seminarians. Maciel died in 2008,and in 2009 the Legion admitted to his crimes. The Maciel scandalhas been particularly sensational given that the Mexican-bornpriest was held up by Pope John Paul II as a model for thefaithful, with his priests admired for their orthodoxy and abilityto bring in money and attract new seminarians. The facade, however, began to crumble in 1997 with revelations ofhis abuse, though it wasn't until 2006 that the Vatican sanctionedMaciel to a lifetime of prayer and penance for his crimes. Justlast week, the Legion admitted that seven of its priests were underinvestigation by the Vatican for allegedly sexually abusing minors— suggesting that the same culture of secrecy and silencethat Maciel used to cover his crimes enabled other priests to abusechildren.
Williams, the most prominent priest in the 800-strong order, spokeabout Maciel's double life in a February 2009 interview with theCatholic ETWN program, saying the revelations were a "very, veryhard blow to all of us." Williams, the author of such books as 2008's "Knowing Right FromWrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience," was the superior of theLegion's general directorate in Rome in the late 1990s and early2000s. More recently, he taught theology, promoted his books andlectured widely. His personal website, which lists his numerous books, speakingengagements, articles and appearances as a CBS commentator, wastaken down on Tuesday. Emails to Williams, who is said by friendsto be suffering from cancer, have not been returned.
The Vatican in 2010 took over the Legion after conducting aninvestigation into the order and the double life of Maciel, whofounded the order in 1941 in Mexico and oversaw its growth into alarge and prominent congregation. It is now being run by a papaldelegate, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, who is spearheading a processof reform after the Vatican found serious problems with thecult-like group. Genevieve Kineke, who runs a blog about the Legion aimed at helpingthose who leave, welcomed Williams' revelations but questioned whoknew what and when given that the child is several years old andthat at least some in the Legion are believed to have known foryears of Maciel's double life yet covered it up to avoid scandal. "I'm gratified that this has become known, for it couldn't remainhidden without its own toxic effect," Kineke said in an e-mail."With due respect for his privacy and that of his family, detailsabout the timeline are still important — if only to ascertainif more corporate duplicity led to this point." She noted that Williams has been a vocal advocate for the Legion"evidently while harboring his own 'double life.' Either hissuperiors knew this, and still allowed him to speak, or he abusedhis freedom knowingly and engaged in grave hypocrisy." Legion spokesman Jim Fair said he didn't know when Williams'superiors learned about the existence of the child. "The decisionwas taken not to provide additional detail on this," Fair said inan email.
The accusation against Williams was first lodged by the Associationfor Help for Those Affected by the LC, a Spanish association forvictims of the Legion. Member Patricio Cerda told The AssociatedPress that the fact that Williams only admitted to the accusationwhen the Legion was confronted by the AP shows that the culture ofcover up in the Legion remains. "This shows that there is no real process of reform," but just aprocess to rewrite the Legion's constitutions, he said. He saidthat the cases of abusive priests referred to the Vatican wereknown to Legion superiors more than five years ago, and a year agoto De Paolis.
Most of the allegations concern alleged abuse fromdecades ago and some of the cases were well-known among Legionwatchers. "What is surprising is how long it took them to recognize thepaternity of a child of one of their priests and how much theytried to protect those who abused children," he said. In his statement, Williams said he and his superiors had decided heshould to take a year off of active ministry to reflect on hiscommitments as a priest. "I am truly sorry to everyone who is hurtby this revelation and I ask for your prayers as I seek guidance onhow to make up for my errors," he wrote.
In an email sent to all Legion priests that accompanied Williams'announcement, Fr. Luis Garza, who heads the Legion in the U.S.,said he was relaying the news with great sadness given the Legion'srecent turmoil. "The last thing I would wish is to add a fresh wound when olderwounds may not have healed fully," wrote Garza, who was long theLegion's No. 2 in Rome. ___ Follow Nicole Winfield at /nwinfield.
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