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

Leaders of the scandal-plagued Legionaries of Christ religious order knew that their most famous priest had fathered a child for many months before they acknowledged it this week, a top Vatican official told Reuters on Wednesday.

The once influential religious order, still in crisis following revelations that its founder was a sexual abuser with two secret families, suffered another major blow on Tuesday when American Father Thomas Williams admitted to having fathered a child with a woman in Rome.

The question left hanging was how long the order’s leaders knew about Williams’s secret life and why they continued to let him preach, teach and appear on television around the world, particularly in the United States.

“I found out about it this year,” Italian Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, who was appointed by Pope Benedict in July, 2010 to oversee the restructuring of the order, told Reuters in a telephone conversation from his home.