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Head of ‘Legion of Christ’ admits knowing about priest’s child seven years ago

The ongoing furore at the Legion of Christ orthodox order threatens to hurt the legacy of John Paul II, who championed its founder.

The headquarters of the beleaguered Legion of Christ order in Rome.
The headquarters of the beleaguered Legion of Christ order in Rome.
Image: Alessandra Tarantino/AP

THE HEAD of the embattled ‘Legion of Christ’ religious order has admitted to covering up news that his most prominent priest had fathered a child, and announced a review of all past allegations of sexual abuse against Legion priests amid a growing scandal at the order.

Fr Alvaro Corcuera wrote a letter to all Legion members in which he admitted he had heard – before he became superior in 2005 – that Rev Thomas Williams, a well-known American television personality, author and moral theologian, had a child.

He said he took Williams’ word that the rumours were false.

Corcuera said that after becoming superior in 2005, he confirmed Williams’ paternity yet did nothing to prevent him from teaching morality to seminarians or preaching about ethics on television, in his many speaking engagements or his 14 books.

Williams, for example, was the keynote speaker at a Legion-affiliated women’s conference just last month in the US and was scheduled to speak at another one in October.

Williams admitted last week he had fathered the child after The Associated Press confronted the Legion with the allegation. In a new statement this morning, Williams said he had resisted his superiors’ encouragement to keep a low profile after the allegations were known to them.

“I foolishly thought that I had left this sin in my past, and that I could make up for some of the wrong I had done by doing the greatest good possible with the gifts God has given me. This was an error in judgment, and yet another thing I must ask your forgiveness for,” he wrote, according to the text obtained by the AP.

Williams has not identified the mother or said whether he was supporting the child or involved in the child’s life. The Legion has said the child is being cared for.

Revelations of Williams’ child and subsequent cover-up have further eroded the Legion’s credibility and compounded the scandal at the order, which in 2009 admitted that its late founder, Fr Marcial Maciel, had sexually abused his seminarians and fathered three children with two women.

For years, the Legion had denied the abuse allegations and publicly discredited the seminarians who went public with their accusations in 1997. Maciel, who founded the Legion in 1941 in Mexico, died in 2008.

The scandal is particularly grave given that Maciel was held up as a model for the faithful by Pope John Paul II, who was impressed by the orthodox order’s ability to attract money and young men to the priesthood.

Maciel’s double life, and the continuing problems of the cult-like order, have cast a shadow over John Paul’s legacy since the Vatican knew of Maciel’s crimes as early as the mid-1950s, yet he continued to enjoy the highest Vatican praise and access until he was finally sanctioned by Rome in 2006.

In 2010, the Vatican took over the Legion after determining that the order itself had been contaminated by Maciel’s influence and needed to be “purified” through a process of reform that is under way.

- Nicole Winfield

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