.- A Rhode Island judge ruled that although there is merit to her case, the niece of an elderly woman who left $60 million to the Legion of Christ ultimately lacks standing to contest her aunt's will.
“Without doubt in this case, the totality of the circumstances is at least suspicious and calls for some explanation,” wrote Judge Michael Silverstein in his Sept. 7 decision.
The case of Mary Lou Dauray, niece of the deceased Gabrielle Mee, was dismissed since Dauray is not a beneficiary of her aunt's will or trust and is not trying to recover any of Mee's money for herself.
According to court documents, Dauray's intention in the case was to see her aunt's wishes honored, as she believes the Legion fraudulently pushed Mee into giving massive sums of money to the beleaguered organization.
Mee, who passed away in 2008, and her late husband – who died in 1985 – were deeply pious Catholics and believed that one should “give back to God some of what God has given you,” reported court records.
Mee was at first a benefactor of a fledgling religious order, but in 1989 was introduced to the Legion of Christ. She was told that the Legion was “with the Catholic church without deviation,” and on this basis she chose financially support it.
That year, she began supporting the Legion, with a gift of $1 million. She visited the Legion's center in Cheshire, Conn. and there met Father Marcial Maciel, the order's founder.
After her husband's death, she became a consecrated woman with the Legion in 1991 and lived at the house belonging to the Rhode Island chapter of Regnum Christi – the group's associated lay movement.
That year Mee modified her will such that 90 percent of her assets would go to the Legion. She continued to modify her will until 2000, at which time she left all her assets to the Legion and made Father Anthony Bannon, a Legionary priest, executor of her estate.
In 1994, Mee modified her charitable trust to benefit the Legion rather than the now-dissolved fledgling order which it had originally supported. This relationship was on the condition that “should the said Legion ever...cease to be faithful to the Holy Father,” then another recipient should be chosen, ultimately The Papal Foundation.
The trust was put under the care of a three-person committee, the members of which were appointed by the Legion. These changes were allegedly written by Fr. Bannon at Mee's request, and were adopted by the trustee bank, Bank of America.
Despite ruling that Dauray is unable to sue over her aunt's will, the judge chose to consider for the sake of argument the suits brought before him. Dauray claimed that the Legion unduly influenced, fraudulently induced, and persuaded Mee to modifying her will and trust in their favor. She also claimed that Bank of America breached its fiduciary duties as the trustee bank.
The Legion and the Bank of America sought summary judgment in each of the matters because Dauray allegedly could not present evidence proving her claims.
Had Dauray the basis on which to bring the claims, the judge indicated that he would have denied summary judgment on the claims of undue influence, fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty – demonstrating Dauray did present considerable evidence of these activities.
Summary judgment would have been granted in the mistake claim, but only because the allegations are so similar to those of fraud as to be substantially the same claim. A denial of summary judgment would mean that the claims would go to trial.
Dauray's attorney says she is considering an appeal.
In 2006 the press office of the Holy See released a communique regarding Fr. Maciel saying that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith began receiving allegations of impropriety against him in 1998. In 2001 Cardinal Ratzinger, then prefect of the congregation, ordered an investigation into the allegations.
The 2006 communique announced that as a result of the investigation and without a hearing, Fr. Maciel was removed from public ministry and “invited” to a life of penitence and prayer. At that time the Legion and Regnum Christi were still acknowledged as worthy organizations.
After the release of this communique Mee continued to make gifts from her personal bank account to the Legion amounting to $2.2 million, including a $400,000 gift directed immediately by Fr. Bannon four days prior to Mee's death.
The Legion has been overseen by Cardinal Velasio de Paolis since 2010, after an apostolic visitation determined that the order needed “profound re-evaluation.”
In February of this year, 30 consecrated women of Regnum Christi, including the head, left the movement.