By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Legion of Christ religious order, already discredited for having covered up the crimes of its pedophile founder, suffered another blow to its credibility after its superior admitted Tuesday that he knew in 2005 that his most prominent priest had broken his vows of celibacy and fathered a child, yet did nothing to prevent him from teaching and preaching about morality.
The admission by the Rev. Alvaro Corcuera is likely to enrage members of the Legion and its lay branch who have endured years of apologies, hypocrisy and explanations for the crimes of the order's founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, who sexually abused his seminarians and fathered three children with two women.
The Rev. Thomas Williams, the public face of the Legion in America, admitted last week that he had fathered a child several years ago, going public with a statement after The Associated Press presented the Legion with the accusation.
On Tuesday, Corcuera wrote a letter to all Legion members admitting that he had heard rumors of the child before he became superior in 2005, but took Williams' word that they were false. Williams is a well-known U.S. television personality, author and moral theologian.
Corcuera said that after becoming superior in 2005, he confirmed Williams' paternity and asked him to withdraw from public ministry. Yet he did nothing to prevent him from teaching morality to seminarians or preaching about ethics on television, in his many speaking engagements or in his 14 books, including "Knowing Right from Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience."
Williams, for example, remained dean of the theology department at the Legion's university in Rome until 2007 — two years after Corcuera knew about the child. As chancellor of the university, Corcuera could have ousted him, yet Williams taught theology up until this past February when he was finally removed.
Corcuera said he placed restrictions on Williams' ministry in 2010, but as recently as last month Williams was the keynote speaker at a Legion-affiliated women's conference in the U.S. state of Rhode Island and was scheduled to speak at another conference in October in Michigan.
In his statement Tuesday, Corcuera admitted that he "was not diligent in setting proper restrictions and enforcing them."
In a new statement Tuesday, Williams said he had resisted Corcuera's encouragement to keep a low profile, saying he had hoped to move beyond the child — "this sin in my past" — to do good work for the church.
"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," Williams wrote in an email to Legion members that was obtained by the AP. "This was an error in judgment, and yet another thing I must ask your forgiveness for."
Williams, who is said by friends to be suffering from cancer, hasn't identified the mother or said whether he was supporting the child or taking part in the child's upbringing. The Legion has said the child is being cared for. Williams has said he is taking a year off to ponder his commitment to the priesthood.
For years, the Legion denied allegations that Maciel abused his seminarians and tried to publicly discredit those who went public with their accusations in 1997. The telegenic Williams was one of Maciel's prime defenders.
After the Legion came clean about Maciel's double life in 2009, many had forgiven the leadership for its deception, thinking it was an isolated case. But Tuesday's revelations that Corcuera knew of Williams' child indicated otherwise — that covering up for the sins and crimes of errant priests was part of the Legion's problematic culture of silence and obedience.
"I cannot foresee what this means to the future of the congregation, for their existence hinges on political expediency rather that the greater moral good," Genevieve Kineke, who runs a blog about the Legion aimed at helping those who leave, said in an email. "It does seem to eliminate any remaining vestiges of real authority for Fr. Corcuera, and makes authentic reform all the harder."
A U.S. victims' group, Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests, called for Pope Benedict XVI to oust Corcuera, saying if the pope wants "a more holy and pure and safe church, he can't keep ignoring or rewarding serious wrongdoing."