After Fr. Williams scandal, Legion head stresses accountability

Rome, Italy, May 22, 2012 / 07:25 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Father Alvaro Corcuera, the general director of the Legion of Christ, has asked forgiveness for his failure to act firmly enough towards a prominent Legion priest who fathered a child and has insisted that the Legion is improving its efforts to hold wayward clergy accountable.

The general director wrote a May 21 letter to the Legionaries of Christ and Regnum Christi members in North America about the situation “not to excuse my ineffectiveness, but to explain it — and beg your forgiveness.”

Father Thomas Williams, a television broadcaster, prolific author, and theology and ethics professor at the Legion’s Regina Apostolorum University in Rome, issued a May 15 statement admitting that he had a relationship with a woman “a number of years ago.” He apologized for the “grave transgression” and said he will leave active public ministry for a year.

Fr. Corcuera, the Regina Apostolorum University’s former rector, provided new information about the timeline of the events. He said that he had heard rumors about Fr. Williams’ misbehavior during his time as rector and inquired about them, but he believed Fr. Williams’ denial.

After Fr. Corcuera became the Legion’s general director in 2005, “early” in his assignment, he learned that Fr. Williams in fact had a relationship with a woman and fathered a child.

“I reviewed the situation with Fr. Williams, asking him to start withdrawing from public ministry,” Fr. Corcuera said.

The general director placed restrictions on the priest’s ministry in May 2010, but in his recent letter Fr. Corcuera said these restrictions were “not firm enough” because he was not asked to leave teaching. Fr. Williams was told to “fully withdraw” from all public ministry in March 2012.

“I also must admit that, in the midst of all that was happening I was not diligent in setting proper restrictions and enforcing them,” the general director said.

His comments follow a May 15 Legion of Christ statement saying the general director and his council are “deeply sorry for not having acted earlier and more firmly.”

Fr. Corcuera’s May 21 letter stressed the need to reassure Legion and Regnum Christi members that “things are handled differently now.”

He said that precautionary measures, possibly including removal from public ministry, are now taken when a “serious charge” is brought against any member of the Legion of Christ.

If there is a legal issue, it is reported to the authorities and the Legion cooperates with them “completely.” Relevant issues are also reported to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Fr. Corcuera said that changes in the Legion’s governance structure  are also moving away from the centralized style created by the religious congregation’s founder, Fr. Marcel Maciel. After his death Fr. Maciel was exposed as a sexual abuser who also fathered children.

Reforms of the Legion’s constitution, the general director said, will help minimize the chance of “future failings.”

“However, we are fallen human beings; as a growing, international congregation, it is likely that some of us will fail to live up to our ideals. But when that happens, every person will be held accountable for his or her actions,” he said.

He also called on priests who have engaged in abuse or sexual misconduct to “step forward” to be held accountable and “receive the assistance and the supervision they need.”

Anyone affected by a Legionary priest should report it to the relevant authorities, he said.

Fr. Corcuera said that he is confident that with God’s help the Legion can work to repair past injustices “in a way consonant with the justice and charity demanded in the Gospel.”

He said he has always “esteemed and valued” Fr. Williams, which makes the current situation “so painful.”

The general director urged Legion supporters to show “unity, charity, prayer and mutual support” in advancing the congregation’s renewal. He specifically asked for prayers for Fr. Williams, for Legionaries who may be “a cause of scandal with their sins,” and for any victims.

“God can always bring good from evil – let us be on his side in this effort!” he said.

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