(Pope John Paul II (R) blesses Father Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, during a special audience in Paul VI hall at the Vatican November 30, 2004. REUTERS/Tony Gentile )

The leader of the Legionaries of Christ admitted on Tuesday he knew for years the scandal-plagued Roman Catholic order’s most famous priest had fathered a child but still allowed the popular cleric to preach about morality. The order, still reeling from revelations that its founder was a sex abuser and drug addict with two secret families, suffered another major blow last week when it admitted that Father Thomas Williams, an American based in Rome, also had led a double life.

But the question that had been left hanging after the first admission was how long Williams’ superiors knew. In a letter to members published on the order’s website, the order’s leader, Father Alvaro Corcuera, said he found out about Williams’s child “early in my new assignment” as director-general, which began in 2005.

In an interview with Reuters last week, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, the man Pope Benedict appointed in 2010 as his personal delegate to try to reform the order, said he did not find out about Williams’s affair until this year.

Williams was the public face of the order, appearing often on American television networks to explain Church teachings. He was the author of more than a dozen books, including one called “Knowing Right From Wrong: A Christian Guide to Conscience”.