The Legion of Christ religious order, still reeling from revelations that its late founder was a pedophile, admitted Wednesday that it knew that its most famous priest had fathered a child years ago yet didn’t remove him from teaching morality to seminarians or speaking publicly about ethics.
In a statement, the Legion said it was sorry it hadn’t acted “earlier and more firmly” to remove the Rev. Thomas Williams from his very public ministry as a spokesman, author and high-profile television personality. It said it took responsibility for the lapse, but didn’t admit when Williams’ superiors knew of the existence of his child.
Williams, an American moral theologian and former superior of the Legion’s Rome general office, admitted Tuesday he had had a relationship with a woman and had fathered a child “a number of years ago.” He didn’t identify the woman or say whether he is supporting the child, though the Legion said the child is being cared for.
Williams’ admission was issued after The Associated Press last week confronted the order with the allegation against Williams, which was lodged by a Spanish association of Legion victims. The association’s accusations, sent to the Legion and Vatican several weeks ago, also named other Legion priests accused of sexually abusing minors.
The Legion has been beset by scandal following revelations that its late founder, the Rev. Marciel Maciel, fathered three children with two women and sexually abused his seminarians. Maciel died in 2008, and in 2009 the Legion admitted to his crimes. The Maciel scandal has been particularly sensational given that the Mexican-born priest was held up by Pope John Paul II as a model for the faithful, with his priests admired for their orthodoxy and ability to bring in money and attract new seminarians.
The facade, however, began to crumble in 1997 with revelations of his abuse, though it wasn’t until 2006 that the Vatican sanctioned Maciel to a lifetime of prayer and penance for his crimes. Just last week, the Legion admitted that seven of its priests were under investigation by the Vatican for allegedly sexually abusing minors â€” suggesting that the same culture of secrecy and silence that Maciel used to cover his crimes enabled other priests to abuse children. [More]