VATICAN CITY — The Legion of Christ religious order, already discredited for concealing the crimes of its pedophile founder, suffered another blow to its credibility Tuesday when its superior admitted that he knew in 2005 that his most prominent priest had fathered a child, yet allowed him to keep teaching and preaching about morality.
The admission by the Rev. Alvaro Corcuera is likely to enrage members of the order and its lay branch, which has endured years of apologies, hypocrisy and explanations for the crimes of the Catholic order's founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, who sexually abused his seminarians and fathered three children with two women.
The Rev. Thomas Williams, the public face of the order in the United States, admitted last week that he had violated his vow of celibacy and fathered a child several years ago, going public with a statement after the Associated Press presented the order with the accusation.
On Tuesday, Father Corcuera wrote a letter to all Legion members admitting that he had heard rumors about the child before he became superior in 2005, but he took Father Williams' word that they were false. Father Williams is a well-known U.S. television personality, author and moral theologian.
Father Corcuera said that after becoming superior in 2005, he confirmed Father Williams' paternity and asked him to withdraw from public ministry. Yet Father Corcuera did nothing to prevent Father Williams from teaching morality to seminarians or preaching about ethics on television, in his many speaking engagements or in his 14 books.
Father Williams remained dean of the theology department at the order's university in Rome until 2007, two years after Father Corcuera knew about the child. As chancellor of the university, Father Corcuera could have ousted him, yet Father Williams taught theology until February, when he finally was removed.
Father Corcuera said he placed restrictions on Father Williams' ministry in 2010, but as recently as last month Father Williams was the keynote speaker at a legion-affiliated women's conference in Rhode Island and was scheduled to speak at another conference in October in Michigan.
In his letter Tuesday, Father Corcuera admitted that he "was not diligent in setting proper restrictions and enforcing them."
In a new statement Tuesday, Father Williams said he had resisted Father Corcuera's encouragement to keep a low profile, saying he had hoped to move beyond the child to do good work for the church.
"I foolishly thought that I had left this sin in my past, and that I could make up for some of the wrong I had done by doing the greatest good possible with the gifts God has given me," Father Williams wrote in an email to Legion members that was obtained by the AP.
"This was an error in judgment, and yet another thing I must ask your forgiveness for."
Father Williams, who is said by friends to be suffering from cancer, has not identified the mother or said whether he is supporting the child. The order has said the child is being cared for.
Father Williams has said he is taking a year off to ponder his commitment to the priesthood.
For years, the Legion of Christ denied allegations that Maciel abused his seminarians and tried to publicly discredit those who went public with their accusations in 1997. The telegenic Father Williams was one of Maciel's prime defenders.
Maciel, who founded the order in 1941 in Mexico, died in 2008.