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Prominent priest admits he fathered child

VATICAN CITY - The Legion of Christ religious order was hit Tuesday by its second scandal in a week after its most well-known priest - a prominent author, lecturer, and television personality - admitted he had fathered a child.

The Rev. Thomas Williams, an American moral theologian, said in a statement he was “deeply sorry for this grave transgression’’ against his vows of celibacy and that he would take a year off to reflect on what he had done and his commitment to the priesthood.

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The statement was issued after the Associated Press presented the Legion with the allegation against Williams, which was lodged by a Spanish association of Legion sexual abuse victims. The association’s accusations, sent to the Legion and Vatican several weeks ago, named Legion priests accused of sexually abusing minors.

Williams, who was not accused of abuse, said that “a number of years ago’’ he had a relationship with a woman and fathered her child. He did not identify the mother and did not say whether the relationship was over. He also did not say if he was involved in supporting the child.

The Legion has been beset by scandal following revelations that its late founder, the Rev. Marciel Maciel, fathered three children and sexually abused his seminarians. Maciel died in 2008 and in 2009 the Legion admitted to his crimes.

Williams, the most prominent priest in the 800-strong order, spoke about Maciel’s double life in a February 2009 interview with the Catholic EWTN program, saying the revelations were a “very, very hard blow to all of us.’’

Williams, author of such books as “Knowing Right From Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience’’ (2008), was the superior of the Legion’s directorate in Rome in the late 1990s and early 2000s. More recently, he has taught theology, promoted his books, and lectured.

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