The Chicago Tribune
11:37 a.m. CDT, May 22, 2012
* Legionaries head asks forgiveness for handling of case
* Scandal concerns American priest who fathered a child
* Fr. Thomas Williams was allowed to continue teaching
(Adds reaction from abuse victims’ group, paragraphs 13-14)
By Philip Pullella
ROME, May 22 (Reuters) – The leader of the Legionaries of
Christ admitted on Tuesday he knew for years the scandal-plagued
Roman Catholic order’s most famous priest had fathered a child
but still allowed the popular cleric to preach about morality.
The order, still reeling from revelations that its founder
was a sex abuser and drug addict with two secret families,
suffered another major blow last week when it admitted that
Father Thomas Williams, an American based in Rome, also had led
a double life.
But the question that had been left hanging after the first
admission was how long Williams’s superiors knew.
In a letter to members published on the order’s website, the
order’s leader, Father Alvaro Corcuera, said he found out about
Williams’s child “early in my new assignment” as
director-general, which began in 2005.
In an interview with Reuters last week, Cardinal Velasio De
Paolis, the man Pope Benedict appointed in 2010 as his personal
delegate to try to reform the order, said he did not find out
about Williams’s affair until this year.
Williams was the public face of the order, appearing often
on American television networks to explain Church teachings. He
was the author of more than a dozen books, including one called
“Knowing Right From Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience”.
He was a big draw on the lecture circuit at Catholic
institutions and had two websites, both of which were shut down
last week after the order issued a statement about him.
In his letter to members, Corcuera said that after he first
found out that Williams had a child he asked him to “start
withdrawing from public ministry” but admitted that the
restrictions “were not firm enough” and Williams was allowed to
In fact, Williams continued to appear in public and teach at
Rome’s Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University.
He appeared as a consultant to a U.S. television network
until 2010 and had a contract with the network until May 2011,
when it was not renewed, according to a source with knowledge of
Corcuera said in his letter that he did not give Williams an
“explicit indication to full withdraw from all public ministry”
until March 2012. By that time it was an open secret to a number
of television journalists.
In the letter, Corcuera “begs” forgiveness from members of
the order for being an ineffective leader and for not being
“diligent in setting proper restrictions and enforcing them” in
the Williams case.
SNAP, a U.S-based group combatting sexual abuse in the
Church, called on the pope to “oust” Corcuera.
“Virtually nothing will change if the pope and other Church
officials continue to let their colleagues and underlings act
recklessly and deceitfully – year after year after year – and
get by with saying, when they’re caught, ‘Oops, sorry, I
goofed,'” SNAP said in a statement.
FOUNDER LED DOUBLE LIFE
The Legionaries of Christ run private Catholic schools and
charitable organisations in 22 countries via a network of 800
priests and 2,600 seminarians. The order’s lay movement, known
as Regnum Christi, has around 75,000 members.
The order and its leaders have been at the centre of
controversy since 2009 when they were forced to admit that their
charismatic Mexican founder, Father Marcial Maciel, had led a
double life for decades.
Maciel, who made huge financial contributions to the
Vatican, secretly fathered children with at least two women,
used drugs, misused donations and sexually abused seminarians.
He had enjoyed the support of the late Pope John Paul and
was spared official censure for years despite what critics say
was overwhelming proof of his crimes.
Some Churchmen say the scandal may delay John Paul’s road to
sainthood. Last year he was beatified, the last step before
being made a saint.
Pope Benedict ordered Maciel to retire in 2006 to a life of
“prayer and penitence” when the evidence could no longer be
disputed, and he died in disgrace in 2008.
Some critics of the order say that since the Legionaries
have such a history of scandal and cover-up that they are beyond
repair and should be shut down, with good priests joining other
religious orders or being put under control of bishops.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Michael Roddy)