Drama

12.08.13

A Vatican Soap Opera

In what could be a scene straight out of The Thorn Birds, a once high-ranking priest will finally marry the mother of his child, who happens to be the daughter of a former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See.

During his time as a priest, Father Thomas Williams officiated over countless weddings. This weekend, Williams, who left the priesthood in May after admitting he fathered a child out of wedlock, will be on the other side of the altar. The former priest will wed Elizabeth Lev Glendon in a private wedding at an undisclosed location in the United States. Theoretically, the wedding cannot be held in a Catholic church—both because Williams is a former priest who broke his vows of celibacy and because Lev Glendon has borne three children out of wedlock—but the nuptials could be blessed by a Catholic priest if the couple chooses to go that route. Glendon is the daughter of Mary Glendon, the highest-ranking woman in the Vatican as head of the Pontifical Academy for Social Services. She served as the American ambassador to the Holy See from 2008 to 2009. She is currently on a select advisory committee tasked with reforming the Vatican Bank for Pope Francis.

At the time Mary Glendon was ambassador, her daughter was single-handedly raising the secret love child she had with Williams, who is the author of several books including Knowing Right From Wrong. He was a well-known television talking head for CBS and other news networks during the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI. It was during that time, in 2005, Lev Glendon and Williams had their baby. Lev Glendon, who is an art historian, was working as a columnist for ZENIT news agency, which was run by the Legion of Christ. She wrote about a number of feminist issues, including an emotional essay about her mother in 2006. According to the Associated Press, which broke the wedding story, Williams and Lev Glendon were often about town in Rome, showing up at events together and often co-hosting gatherings of visiting Catholic students and youth groups. Whispers of their supposed affair were a common among the expat set.

In May 2012, after admitting that he had fathered a child in direct defiance with the Catholic Church’s celibacy requirements for priests, Williams took a year off public ministry to “reflect” on his sins.

Williams—for many years described as the "go-to guy" on Catholic affairs—was a member of the controversial Legions of Christ order, which has long been at the epicenter of the church's child sex abuse scandal. The Legion of Christ founder, Father Marcial Maciel, who died in 2008, was a known drug addict who both fathered several children out of wedlock and allegedly molested young seminarians studying for the priesthood. John Paul II continued to support Maciel despite the rumors of his grave misconduct, which has always been a stain on John Paul II’s legacy. The order has been run by the Vatican since 2010, and new Vatican-approved leaders will take the helm next month. During his time with the Legion of Christ, Williams taught ethics and social doctrine in Rome at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum.

In May 2012, after admitting that he had fathered a child in direct defiance with the Catholic Church’s celibacy requirements for priests, Williams took a year off public ministry to “reflect” on his sins. At the time, he apologized publicly for his “grave transgression” and “to everyone who is hurt by this revelation.” A year later, he left the priesthood completely to help Lev Glendon care for their son, who has Down Syndrome.

Williams and Lev Glendon have refused to comment on their nuptials. In an email to the Associated Press, Lev Glendon said, “we have no intention of ever discussing our personal life in this forum.” After years of living in secrecy, followed by a public outing that proved highly embarrassing for all involved, no doubt they are more than ready to get on with their lives.