Legionary Father Alvaro Corcuera said he had known in 2005 that Legionary Father Thomas D. Williams (pictured) had fathered a child. CNS photo

Vowing change, Legion head admits he knew of US priest's transgressions

By  Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service
  • May 22, 2012

ROME - The head of the Legionaries of Christ admitted he knew about the sexual improprieties of a U.S. priest based in Rome and did too little to restrict his high-profile ministry.

But more important than his failure to limit the priest's ministry, he said, is the need to reassure members "that things are handled differently now."

Legionary Father Alvaro Corcuera, who succeeded the late Father Marcial Maciel Degollado as director general of the order, said he had known in 2005 that Legionary Father Thomas D. Williams had fathered a child, but acknowledged he "was not diligent in setting proper restrictions and enforcing them."

The director general made the comments in a letter addressed to North American members of the Legionaries and its lay movement Regnum Christi. The letter, dated May 21, was published on the Legion's website.

Prior to 2005, while he was the rector of the Legionaries' international seminary in Rome, Father Corcuera said he had heard rumors about the U.S.-born priest's "misbehavior."

Soon after he was elected to succeed Father Maciel, the disgraced founder of the Legion, Father Corcuera learned that Father Williams did have a relationship with a woman and fathered a child, he said.

He said he had asked Father Williams to voluntarily start withdrawing from public ministry. Father Williams, who was based in Rome until recently, had been serving as dean of theology at the order's Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University and appeared over the years as a church analyst for CNN, CBS, ABC and Fox News.

Five years later, in May 2010, Father Corcuera placed restrictions on the priest's ministry, but, he said, they "were not firm enough, as he was not asked to leave teaching."

In March 2012, Father Corcuera said he explicitly told Father Williams to "to fully withdraw from all public ministry."

In a May 15 statement, Father Luis Garza, director of the order's North American territory, announced that Father Williams, "after consultation with his superiors, will undergo a period of reflection, prayer and atonement without public ministry."

In his own statement, Father Williams said: "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."

Neither Father Garza's statement nor Father Williams' statement specified when the relationship took place. And Father Garza did not mention when the order's leaders found out; he said only that the order's superiors regretted they did not immediately remove Father Williams from public ministry. Respect for the privacy of the mother and child also accounted for not publically admitting to the affair earlier, Father Garza had said.

The director general "and his council are deeply sorry for not having acted earlier and more firmly and they assume the responsibility and ask pardon for not having done everything possible to limit the scandal," Father Garza said.

Father Corcuera's statement six days later gave a clearer timeline of when he became aware of the priest's transgressions, adding that the letter to members was not meant "to excuse my ineffectiveness, but to explain it and beg your forgiveness."

The four-page letter was dedicated mostly to reassuring the Legion's members that the order has changed how it acts on accusations.

"Today when a serious charge is brought against any Legionary, we take precautionary measures, which may include being removed from public ministry," Father Corcuera said. The order immediately investigates accusations, and if the matter could involve a criminal act, it is reported to the proper authorities, he said.

The director general said that since 2005 seven cases of alleged abuse have been referred to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and remain under investigation. Two of the cases involve alleged violations of priestly obligations, but not the abuse of minors, he said. The other five involve the abuse of minors; four of the cases date from "one or more decades" ago, while one one was "more recent." None of the cases of alleged abuse took place in the United States, he said.

However, Father Corcuera said, in the United States, one Legionary priest is currently under investigation for sexual abuse of a minor and has been removed from all ministry until the case is resolved; three other current Legionaries have been investigated, but no evidence was found to substantiate the allegations; further allegations against three former Legionaries in the United States were reported to the authorities and "are dependent upon the alleged victims' desire to have it pursued."

Even though it's likely some members of the Legion and Regnum Christi "will fail to live up to our ideals," and "I can never say for sure" whether more cases will surface, everyone "will be held accountable for his or her actions," he said.

"Priests who have had misconduct in this area should step forward in order to be held accountable for their actions and to receive assistance and supervision they need," he said. He also urged anyone who may have been "affected by a Legionary in this area to report it to the competent authorities."

Father Corcuera said that from now on he, with the help of the Legion's general council, would review the handling of past allegations to ensure that they were given appropriate attention.

Pope Benedict XVI ordered an apostolic visitation of the Legionaries in 2009, and in 2010, he appointed Cardinal Velasio De Paolis to be his personal delegate with broad powers of authority over the Legionaries of Christ.

The Vatican-led reform and reorganization of the Legionaries came after revelations that Father Maciel, who died in 2008, had fathered children and sexually abused seminarians.

Father Maciel had declined re-election as superior general of the congregation in 2005, citing his age.

Father Williams, who was spokesman for the Legionaries in Rome, said at the time that Father Maciel was also "thinking of the long-term future of the congregation, hoping to accompany the new superior (Father Corcuera) and serve as a counselor to him" to ensure continuity.

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