Leaders of the Legionaries of Christ have apologized for not acting more quickly in the case of Father Thomas Williams, who acknowledged on May 15 that he fathered a child several years ago.
In a statement published on its website, the Legionaries said the priest's superiors “suggested to Fr. Thomas to act in an appropriate way and to withdraw himself from public appearances … Nevertheless, it would have been better to act faster and more forcefully.”
“The General Director 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,” the order said.
It was out of concern for “the legitimate interests of all concerned, especially the privacy of the mother and child,” that the facts were not made public earlier, according to the statement.
Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, the papal delegate appointed to oversee the order's reform efforts in 2010, told Reuters he “only heard about it this year,” when he was informed several months ago.
In its statement, the Legionaries said the papal delegate had helped them to “sort out difficult issues like this.” They also stated that future cases of a similar kind will be handled “with canonical firmness.”
In the case of Fr. Williams, the order says it knows of “no other inappropriate relationships.”
Known for his numerous books and frequent television appearances, Fr. Williams apologized on Tuesday for the events that took place “a number of years ago.” He has withdrawn from public ministry for a year “to reflect on the wrong I have done and my commitments as a priest.”
Citing “respect for the privacy of the mother and child,” his order said it had no further details to provide regarding the time frame of Fr. Williams' relationship with the woman, nor about the age of their child, or how long the priest's superiors knew of the situation before taking action.
Fr. Williams, who was ordained in 1994, is also a professor at the Legionaries' Regina Apostolorum University. In Tuesday's clarification notice, the order said the woman was not one of his students. Their relationship, according to the Legion, involved no “abuse of authority.”
“Despite the moral seriousness of this transgression against the priestly vows, it is not a case of abuse or a criminal action,” the order stated, explaining that the case had been reported to a representative of the Pope but not to civil authorities.
The child, meanwhile, “is being cared for, as required by natural law.” No further details were disclosed.
Canon law does not provide a single set procedure for cases in which a priest fathers a child with an adult woman. Priests may be released from their vows in some cases, though they may also choose to continue serving as clergy after appropriate repentance and other steps to address the situation.