VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Legion of Christ religious order, stained by revelations that its founder sexually abused seminarians and fathered several children, is facing a new credibility scandal: The rector of its diocesan seminary in Rome is leaving the priesthood after admitting he fathered two children of his own.
In a letter released by the Legion on Saturday, the Rev. Oscar Turrion said he fell in love with a woman a few years ago during a time of turmoil in the Legion, fathered a son and, a few months ago, a daughter.
Turrion, a 49-year-old Spaniard, had been rector of the Pontifical Maria Matter Eclesiae International College since 2014. The institution is a residence for diocesan seminarians who study at Rome universities. Currently some 107 seminarians live there, most from India, Latin America and Africa, down from about 200 a few years ago.
The issue is particularly delicate given the international diocesan character of the seminary: Bishops entrusted their seminarians to the Legion to provide them with a wholesome living environment while they completed their studies.
In a statement, the Legion said it was "conscious of the impact that the negative example" of Turrion's case had on seminarians and the Christian faithful, and said it was committed to a path of renewal.
The Vatican took over the Legion in 2010, after revelations that its late founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, sexually abused seminarians and fathered at least three children with two women. It ordered up a wholesale reform, but the scandal hurt the Legion's credibility and stained the legacy of St. John Paul II, who had been a leading Maciel supporter.
Several priests have since left the order, the number of seminarians has fallen and the Legion has been forced to close some schools and sell off some of its property.
Legion spokesman the Rev. Aaron Smith declined to provide details of the Turrion case, citing the family's privacy. He confirmed that the mother of the child was an adult when she conceived the couple's first child.
The issue of priests fathering children has been in the news lately after Irish bishops issued guidelines earlier this year focusing on providing adequate care for the children and mothers. They often face emotional and psychological problems due to the secrecy often imposed on them, as well as financial difficulties.
In his letter, Turrion said he never used Legion funds to provide for his family, relying instead on donations from friends.
Recently, members of Pope Francis' advisory commission on protecting minors from sexual abuse said they had taken up the issue of priests' children in one of their working groups.
The Union of Superiors General, an umbrella group of religious orders, has said it sent the Irish guidelines to its congregations for implementation. Smith declined to say if the Legion was following the Irish provisions, which say the welfare of the child should be paramount.
The Legion said Turrion first informed the order of the birth of his daughter in March, at which time he took a leave and a new rector was named. In October, he revealed he had had a son "a few years ago" with the same woman and announced he intended to leave priestly ministry.
The case recalls that of another high-profile Legion priest, Thomas Williams, who left the priesthood and his post as a professor of moral theology at the Legion's university in Rome after acknowledging he had fathered a child.
In his letter, Turrion said he was at peace and asked for prayers.
"I ask everyone forgiveness for the lack of trust that this implies," he wrote. "I ask forgiveness for my bad example and the negative witness I have given."