Even priests should take heat when they crash and burn

  • May 16, 2013

It was just a year ago that the latest media priest crashed and burned. Fr. Thomas Williams, a priest of the Legionaries of Christ and a well-known writer and television commentator, acknowledged in May 2012 that he had fathered a son many years ago. He took a leave of his public ministry. The Legionaries have now announced that Fr. Williams has asked to leave religious life and the priestly ministry, petitioning the Holy Father for permission to do so.

The Fr. Williams’ case hit rather close to home. While I was not a friend of his, we worked in the same circles, and crossed paths off and on for more than 10 years. More recently, I would meet him annually at the summer seminar on Catholic social teaching run by George Weigel in Krakow, Poland. I started teaching there in 2009, and Fr. Williams — a collaborator on-air with Weigel in covering the 2005 papal funeral and conclave — had been on the faculty for some years before that.

It was revealed last year that Fr. Williams’ illegitimate son was known to the Legionaries’ superiors as early as 2005, and they did ask him to lower his profile. He evidently declined to do so, accepting speaking engagements up until days before the news was revealed. The Legionaries allowed him to act as a spokesman, most notably in 2009 when the facts of Fr. Marcial Maciel’s double life were exposed. Most egregiously, he agreed to address the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences even after he knew that his previous sinful behaviour would soon be made public, creating acute embarrassment for the leadership of the academy. I was present for that lecture, delivered without any hint that all would come crashing down only a few days later.

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