Prominent U.S. priest Father Thomas Williams has asked Pope Francis to dispense him from his priestly obligations in order to care for the child he fathered and the child's mother.
Fr. Williams wrote Fr. John Connor, assistant for apostolate for the North American Territory of Regnum Christi, the lay branch of the Legion of Christ. He said that he had come to “the serene conviction that what God expects of me now is to devote myself to caring for my child and his mother.”
“By responsibly and lovingly accepting the consequences of my actions, I will continue to serve God and his Church. I know I should be with my son and try to be the kind of father he needs,” Fr. Williams said, according to a May 10 blog post by Fr. Connor.
The priest had served as a theology and ethics professor at the Legion of Christ’s Regina Apostolorum University in Rome. He authored many books and came to prominence as a faith and religion analyst for CBS News and a Vatican analyst for NBC News and Sky News. He served as theological adviser for Mel Gibson’s 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ.”
In May 2012 Fr. Williams admitted a relationship with a woman “a number of years ago” in which he fathered a child. He said he was “deeply sorry for this grave transgression.” The Legion of Christ asked Fr. Williams to leave public ministry for a year for prayer and penance to discern his future.
Legion of Christ leaders had learned of the priest’s situation in the mid-2000s. In May 2012, the Legion apologized for not acting more quickly in response.
In his blog post, Fr. Connor said Fr. Williams’ kind of decision is “not easy.”
“We all balance success and failure, joy and sorrow in our lives. None of us escapes sin and the need to ask forgiveness,” he said.
Fr. Connor voiced appreciation for Fr. Williams’ “friendship ... wisdom and counsel.”
Jim Fair, communications director of the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, said both associations are “grateful for the many contributions” the priest made in his time with the congregation.
“We continue to accompany him with our prayers and fraternal support wishing him the best in the years ahead,” Fair said May 10.
Priests' requests to leave the priesthood are rarely approved.
However, Pope Francis in a book authored before he became Pope said that he encourages priests who have fathered a child to leave their ministry and take care of the child, even if they do not marry the woman.
“Because just as the child has a right to have a mother, the child also has the right to the face of a father,” he said in his 2010 book “On Heaven and Earth,” which was released in an English translation last month.
The Legion of Christ is presently under the oversight of Vatican officials in the aftermath of revelations in 2009 that its founder Fr. Marciel Maciel fathered a child out of wedlock and had sexually abused children.