The Catholic Let's-pretend Game and Legionary of Christ Priest Thomas Williams

By Willliam D. Lindsey
The Bilgrimage
May 16, 2012

About the let's-pretend game-playing that seems to be working with ever diminishing effectiveness for the Catholic magisterium and those who defend it (I have been talking about that a bit today, haven't I?):

It now comes out that Legionary of Christ priest and professor of moral theology Fr. Thomas Williams, a darling of the right-wing Catholic talk-show circuit who was the go-to man for the right-wing Catholic media during the conclave that elected the current pope, has fathered a child with a woman he doesn't name, after he was ordained a priest. This information, which Williams has substantiated, appears in a report that a former Legionary priest in Chile, who is now active in a group called Association of Aid for Victims of the Legion of Christ, has sent to senior Vatican officials.

National Catholic Reporter has received a copy of the report, and at this journal's website, John Allen indicates that the report further states that Williams has had sexual relationships with students at the Legionary university in Rome, Regina Apostolorum, and with "the daughter of a prominent American Catholic personality." Williams denies the former charge and as to the second, says he will not comment on particulars regarding specific individuals.

And when I read this breaking news, I could not help thinking--God save me--of this interview with Williams that Kathryn Jean Lopez published earlier this month in National Review Online, in which he defends the Catholic magisterial teaching about contraception as follows:

Concerning birth control, the Church has continuously taught that recourse to contraception is immoral and that responsible parenthood should be lived out through natural family planning, which is extraordinarily effective and respectful of Godís plan for sex within marriage. She believes that contraception is damaging to the relationship of husband and wife and ultimately unworthy of their love for one another. But the Church has no police force. She does not chase down and punish Catholics who fail to live up to her teachings. She appeals only to conscience, and has no power of persuasion other than the force of her teaching in the name of Jesus.

And so my point about the toxic nature of the Catholic let's-pretend game: here's a priest who, later in the month in which he makes these statements to the media, is outed as a man who has fathered a child in secret, while living a public life as a Catholic cleric vowed to celibacy and while defending Catholic magisterial teaching about contraception. I am not privy to the terms of Fr. Williams's relationship with the mother of his child. I cannot and do not judge him.

As I have repeatedly stated here, I am strongly in favor of the ordination of married men (and openly gay men) and of women. I think that the Catholic church would be a far healthier, more vibrant and more representative institution if it took these steps.

I cannot find it easy to honor men who father children whom they don't support, whether those men are ordained or not ordained. And I find it difficult to honor men who, having vowed themselves to celibacy, engage in secret sexual relationships--often while teaching and speaking publicly about matters sexual in ways that condemn others who infringe Catholic moral laws in these areas.

What I want to draw attention to here, however, is the exceedingly high price we Catholics pay for our games of pretending. For pretending that priests are not sexual beings just like anyone else. For pretending that magisterial teaching about artificial contraception is good and holy, when it's anything but that.

The let's-pretend game is premised on what Adrienne Rich called the unholy trinity of lies, secrets, and silence. That trinity--with its unholy nature--is fully apparent in one story after another about the institutional church breaking in recent days, including the latest revelation from the Philadelphia trial, where the former lawyer of the Philadelphia archdiocese, Timothy Coyne, has testified that he was repeatedly lied to by top diocesan officials about documents providing details re: priests abusing minors who were still in active ministry.

To repeat: we Catholics pay a very high price for the let's-pretend game with its attendant unholy trinity of lies, secrets, and silence. There surely has to be a better way to do our business, and a holier trinity than this to worship and center our lives on--or so it seems to me.








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