A Vatican Soap Opera

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In what could be a scene straight out of The Thorn Birds, a once high-ranking priest will finally marry the mother of his child, who happens to be the daughter of a former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

During his time as a priest, Father Thomas Williams officiated over countless weddings. This weekend, Williams, who left the priesthood in May after admitting he fathered a child out of wedlock, will be on the other side of the altar. The former priest will wed Elizabeth Lev Glendon in a private wedding at an undisclosed location in the United States. Theoretically, the wedding cannot be held in a Catholic church—both because Williams is a former priest who broke his vows of celibacy and because Lev Glendon has borne three children out of wedlock—but the nuptials could be blessed by a Catholic priest if the couple chooses to go that route. Glendon is the daughter of Mary Glendon, the highest-ranking woman in the Vatican as head of the Pontifical Academy for Social Services. She served as the American ambassador to the Holy See from 2008 to 2009. She is currently on a select advisory committee tasked with reforming the Vatican Bank for Pope Francis.

At the time Mary Glendon was ambassador, her daughter was single-handedly raising the secret love child she had with Williams, who is the author of several books including Knowing Right From Wrong. He was a well-known television talking head for CBS and other news networks during the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI. It was during that time, in 2005, Lev Glendon and Williams had their baby. Lev Glendon, who is an art historian, was working as a columnist for ZENIT news agency, which was run by the Legion of Christ. She wrote about a number of feminist issues, including an emotional essay about her mother in 2006. According to the Associated Press, which broke the wedding story, Williams and Lev Glendon were often about town in Rome, showing up at events together and often co-hosting gatherings of visiting Catholic students and youth groups. Whispers of their supposed affair were a common among the expat set.

In May 2012, after admitting that he had fathered a child in direct defiance with the Catholic Church’s celibacy requirements for priests, Williams took a year off public ministry to “reflect” on his sins.

Williams—for many years described as the “go-to guy” on Catholic affairs—was a member of the controversial Legions of Christ order, which has long been at the epicenter of the church’s child sex abuse scandal. The Legion of Christ founder, Father Marcial Maciel, who died in 2008, was a known drug addict who both fathered several children out of wedlock and allegedly molested young seminarians studying for the priesthood. John Paul II continued to support Maciel despite the rumors of his grave misconduct, which has always been a stain on John Paul II’s legacy. The order has been run by the Vatican since 2010, and new Vatican-approved leaders will take the helm next month. During his time with the Legion of Christ, Williams taught ethics and social doctrine in Rome at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

In May 2012, after admitting that he had fathered a child in direct defiance with the Catholic Church’s celibacy requirements for priests, Williams took a year off public ministry to “reflect” on his sins. At the time, he apologized publicly for his “grave transgression” and “to everyone who is hurt by this revelation.” A year later, he left the priesthood completely to help Lev Glendon care for their son, who has Down Syndrome.

Williams and Lev Glendon have refused to comment on their nuptials. In an email to the Associated Press, Lev Glendon said, “we have no intention of ever discussing our personal life in this forum.” After years of living in secrecy, followed by a public outing that proved highly embarrassing for all involved, no doubt they are more than ready to get on with their lives.

8 Responses to A Vatican Soap Opera

  1. Brian says:

    “Theoretically, the wedding cannot be held in a Catholic church—both because Williams is a former priest who broke his vows of celibacy and because Lev Glendon has borne three children out of wedlock—but the nuptials could be blessed by a Catholic priest if the couple chooses to go that route.” I didn’t read any further after that line. I’m not sure that you know what you are talking about.

    I will begin with the second supposed impediment: “…Lev Glendon has borne three children out of wedlock…” Having children out of wedlock is not nor has it ever been an impediment to marriage in the Roman Catholic Church. It is not relevant. Period. Full stop. Elizabeth Lev has never been married, so her past relationships and the children which issued from them would have no bearing on whether or not she can marry Williams. If she had been married and the previous marriage was never declared null by a canonical tribunal then there would be a serious impediment.

    And to the first supposed impediment: “…Williams is a former priest who broke his vows of celibacy…” The fact that he broke his vows in itself wouldn’t be enough to prevent a marriage within the Church. Their marriage within the Church is contingent on a few variables. Has he been canonically dismissed from the clerical state or has he simply run away? I doubt he’s just on the run because his order (and presumably Pontifical Commissioner overseeing the reform of the Legion) made the decision that it was time to bring this to light. So it seems likely that he has been given permission to leave. How quickly he can be given canonical permission to enter into the sacrament of matrimony is also another variable. Laicization of a priest usually takes some time and must be granted by the Holy See.

    But the point is neither of reasons you give for Williams and Elizabeth Lev being “theoretically” unable to wed are real impediments in and of themselves. There are circumstances in which they could marry. I myself know of several professors of the theology at Catholic colleges and universities who were laicized and are now married. While violating the vows or promises made when entering the religious life or priesthood is a grave sin on the part of the priest, we must remember that love covers a multitude of sins and the Church, in Her ministry of mercy and grace, can act in a way which brings healing to these people and which allows them to get back up and walk towards God again. We should pray for them and for ourselves.

  2. BC says:

    Let’s face it: there’s nothing quite like having a first child, isn’t it?
    Well… for Fr. Óscar Turrión of the Legionaries of Christ and who was also the Rector of the Pontifical International College Maria Mater Ecclesiae in Rome ( it`s sounds like and it is indeed a big deal) it turns out that he didn`t have his first child (a daughter) in March 2017, but that his first child (a boy) was born several years ago.
    They`re not saying exactly how long ago… to protect the child`s privacy.

    But hey: he`s confessed, he`s sorry, and he`s gonna leave the priesthood.
    (Like he`s a stand-up kinda guy, eh?)

    see here: http://www.regnumchristi.org/sites/dg/wp-content/uploads/sites/13/2017/10/communiqueENG.pdf

    you can also see him partying with the boys in the seminary here last year:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IY42g5O0820

  3. Sylvia says:

    Thanks BC. I have posted articles and documents here on the Legionaries page. I discovered in the process that the Father Marcial Maciel Degollado (Marcial Maciel) from The Inquiry website was one many not yet repopulated – have now posted the contents of that original page.

    I firmly believed that the order should have been suppressed as soon as its founder’s multiple untoward sexual proclivities first saw the light of day. For whatever reason, that was not done. So here we are, another scandal. And this man was Rector of the seminary!

    In viewing the video I must say that it looks as though he was doing as good a job of forming our future priests as he was at being chaste and honest.

    • BC says:

      “no hay esperanzas por el cambio” en la Legión
      i.e. there is no hope for change in the Legion. That`s what the Legion’s own governing counselor and no.2 guy, the Rev. Deomar De Guedes, said in 2013 as he was not only resigning his position and leaving the congregation just before the Holy See rebooted the extremely lucrative fundraising scheme that is the Legion.
      Father De Guedes was correct. The Holy See never enforced Father Maciel`s sentence of a life of prayer and penitence and he went on living in luxury and travelling while enjoying the full logistical support of the Legion until he died; surrounded by his fellow legionaries.

      • Sylvia says:

        I don’t recall being aware that he was never obliged to live the ‘life of prayer and penance,’ – no matter, he should have been defrocked (perhaps even excommunicated?) and the order suppressed. Priests who wished to continue as priests would have been free to find another order willing to take them in, or, failing that, a bishop willing to take them in as diocesan priests.

  4. Mike Fitzgerald says:

    Not to be “devil’s advocate” here, but I do not see anything immoral or sinful in watching a group of obvious seminarians dancing in the aisles.
    They appear to be having fun dancing for the camera, and I don’t have a problem with that.
    What’s wrong with it? In spite of my own personal case, I have witnessed a number of priests dancing at weddings, and I think it’s wonderful. Dancing for a camera, and fathering illegitimate children are two completely different scenarios. Mike.

  5. Sylvia says:

    You’re right Mike, it’s neither immoral nor sinful, but, in my humble opinion, inappropriate for men preparing for a life of chastity and celibacy.

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