Father Thomas Williams, one of the most high-profile American members of the Legion of Christ, is leaving public ministry after admitting he fathered a child.
“A number of years ago I had a relationship with a woman and fathered her child. I am deeply sorry for this grave transgression and have tried to make amends,” Father Williams said in a May 15 statement.
“My superiors and I have decided it would be best for me to take a year without active public ministry to reflect on the wrong I have done and my commitments as a priest. I am truly sorry to everyone who is hurt by this revelation, and I ask for your prayers as I seek guidance on how to make up for my errors.”
He also apologized to members of the Legion and the Church, “since this scandalous news will damage them as well, at the worst possible moment.”
The identities of the mother and child have not been revealed.
Father Williams also said that he is with his family in Michigan and is being treated for a form of cancer.
Father Williams was ordained a priest with the Legion of Christ in 1994. Now based in Rome, he is a professor of theology and ethics at the Legion’s Regina Apostolorum University. He is also a prolific Catholic author.
Father Williams earned most of his renown for his work in broadcast television. In recent years, he has served as a faith and religion analyst for CBS News, as well as a Vatican analyst for NBC News and Sky News. He was also the theological advisor for Mel Gibson’s 2004 film The Passion of the Christ.
Today’s news is yet another blow to the morale of the Legion of Christ. The movement is currently being overhauled by senior Vatican officials, following revelations that its late founder, Father Marcial Maciel, had lived a double life that included affairs with women and fathering children.
Meanwhile, the Vatican announced last week that it is also investigating seven allegations of sexual abuse made against Legion members, with all but one of the cases being “from decades ago.”
In a May 15 letter to all Legion members, Father Luis Garza, territorial director for North America, said that Father Williams’ announcement “will be shocking news to you,” especially “in the wake of all that we have been through as a movement in the past several years.” He added that he would not be surprised if members were “disappointed, angry or feel your trust shaken once again.”
“Father Williams has enriched the faith of so many through his teaching, public speaking and writing and has been a spiritual guide for many in the movement,” he stated.
“That is what makes this failing such a painful reminder that we are all frail humans in desperate need of God’s mercy.”
Father Garza concluded by asking for prayers for all who have been affected by Father Williams’ actions and also for himself “during his time of prayer, penance and renewal of his priestly ministry.”