Legionaries of Christ priest admits affair, removed from ministry

Legionaries of Christ Father Thomas Williams in pictured in an undated photo provided to Catholic News Service Jan. 22. Father Williams, a high-profile television commentator, issued a statement May 15 admitting that he had a sexual relationship with a w oman and fathered a child "a number of years ago." (CNS photo/courtesy of Father Thomas Williams)

THORNWOOD, N.Y. (CNS) — A popular, telegenic Legionaries of Christ priest who has appeared over the years as a church analyst for CNN, CBS, ABC and Fox News has been removed from public ministry after admitting he had a relationship with a woman “a number of years ago” and fathered her child.

In a May 15 statement, Father Luis Garza, director of the order’s North American territory, announced that Father Thomas D. 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.

“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,” he continued. “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.”

Both statements were posted on the Legionaries’ website, www.legionariesofchrist.org. Father Williams’ own website, www.thomasdwilliams.com, had been taken down as of March 16.

A member of the Legionaries of Christ since 1985 and ordained a priest in 1994, Father Williams holds degrees in theology, philosophy and business. Based in Rome, he was serving as dean of the theology school at the Rome’s Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University.

He has worked extensively for Sky News in Britain covering church and ethical issues. For both NBC and Sky News, the priest covered the final illness and death of Pope John Paul II, the 2005 papal conclave and the election of Pope Benedict XVI.

Besides previous work for a number of networks, he currently was a consultant on Vatican affairs for NBC News and MSNBC. He is the author of a 2008 book titled “Knowing Right From Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience.”

Father Williams is a former publisher of the Zenit news agency in Rome.

“I know that this will be shocking news to you,” Father Garza said in his statement about Father Williams. “In the wake of all that we have been through as a movement in the past several years, it won’t surprise me if you are disappointed, angry or feel your trust shaken once again.”

The Legionaries has been undergoing a Vatican-led reform and reorganization. The reform efforts came after revelations that the order’s founder, the late Father Marcial Maciel Degollado, had fathered children and sexually abused seminarians.

Pope Benedict XVI ordered an apostolic visitation of the Legionaries in 2009.

In February, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, who is serving as papal delegate for the Legionaries of Christ, set up a five-man commission to listen to victims of the Legionaries’ founder and present their claims to the order.

A notice published Feb. 1 on the Legionaries’ website, said the commission will “deal only with cases having a direct relation to the person of Father Maciel. It will not intervene in cases awaiting decisions from civil or ecclesiastical courts,” the notice said.

“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,” said Father Garza. “That is what makes this failing such a painful reminder that we are all frail humans, in desperate need of God’s mercy.

The Associated Press May 11 reported that Vatican was investigating seven Legionaries of Christ priests for alleged sexual abuse of minors. AP quoted a statement from the Legionaries confirming the investigation of alleged abuse, most of which had reportedly occurred decades ago.