ROME — The Legionaries of Christ announced Friday that Father Óscar Turrión, who was head of the Pontifical International College Maria Mater Ecclesiae until earlier this year, has fathered two children and intends to leave priestly ministry.
Father Turrión had been rector of the seminary since 2014 and a formator there since 2007.
“As those responsible for an institutions that is dedicated to the formation of candidates to the priesthood, we are conscious of the impact that the negative example of a formator and rector has on them and the Christian faithful,” the Legionaries said in an Oct. 6 statement.
“We are deeply saddened that the recent history of our congregation has quenched the fervor of some of our members. We are firmly committed to accompanying our brothers in moments of difficulty. Likewise, we reiterate our commitment to the path of renewal that we continue to follow led by the Church.”
Mater Ecclesiae was founded in 1991 and is operated by the Legionaries of Christ.
The Legionaries of Christ has faced difficulties since it was discovered that the community’s founder, Father Marcial Maciel, had been leading a double life. In 2006 the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith imposed upon Father Maciel “a retired life of prayer and penance, renouncing any form of public ministry.”
Benedict XVI initiated a process of reform for the Legionaries, and in 2010, then-Archbishop Velasio de Paolis was appointed as their papal delegate. New constitutions for the order were approved by Pope Francis in 2014.
The Legionaries’ Oct. 6 statement was accompanied by a letter from Father Turrión explaining his situation.
“Due to certain circumstances in the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ and many other circumstances in the Church, I began to lose my grounding and became more and more disillusioned,” he wrote.
During what he called “a thorough and peaceful process of discernment,” he said he re-established contact with a woman he had gotten to know while he was a priest.
“From this relationship was born first a son and, a few months ago, a daughter.”
Father Turrión told his superiors March 27 about the recent birth of his daughter and asked them to maintain confidentiality, the Legionaries’ statement said. The superiors then asked for the appointment of a new rector of the seminary, who began his term in August.
The priest then sought, and was granted, permission to live outside of community for a time of reflection and prayer, during which he could not exercise public priestly ministry.
It was Oct. 5 that Father Turrión acknowledged that he had had another child with the woman several years ago. He expressed his intention to leave priestly ministry and asked for a dispensation from the obligations of ordination.
In his letter, Father Turrión stated he had already decided to leave the priesthood while he was still rector of Mater Ecclesiae.
“Out of love and respect for my companions at Mater and the seminarians and their bishops, or out of weakness and shame as well, I did not ask to be relieved of my responsibilities. I did do it, though, when my three-year term as rector was up. I ask everyone forgiveness for the lack of trust that this implies.”
Father Turrión also noted in his letter that he had not used money from his position as rector to support his children, but only “donations that my friends gave me for my personal use.”
“I accept my responsibility. Without fear of the future, I put everything in God’s hands and am resolved to continue ‘doing the truth’ in my life. Yes, the truth, since although I have hidden this until recently out of weakness, when I began the canonical process a few weeks ago, I am ‘doing the truth’ before God,” Father Turrión wrote. “I am at peace and in harmony with God through the sacrament of confession. I am at peace because I have prayed, asking Our Lord to give me light and to come clean with myself and my superiors.”
Father Turrión wrote: “I write this to take full responsibility for my actions. I do not blame anyone except myself. With this text I want to leave things clear, ask forgiveness for the scandal, and request your prayers. I never felt I was above anyone else, and, therefore, I can consider my actions in great peace and humility and ask God and you for pardon.”
“I ask forgiveness for my bad example and the negative witness I have given,” he added. “… As always, I ask, if possible more than ever, that you pray for me and remember me before the Lord.”