.- Four news organizations are seeking the release of sealed court documents from a lawsuit contesting the will of a Rhode Island woman who gave $60 million to the Legion of Christ.
Jim Fair, Communications Director with the Legion of Christ, said the donor was “a beloved member of our spiritual family” and the religious congregation was “respectful and diligent in carrying out her wishes.”
He told CNA Oct. 24 that it is “appropriate” for the documents to stay sealed “to ensure that potential jurors are not influenced and that the Legion’s constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury is protected.”
On Oct. 24 the Associated Press, The New York Times, The Providence Journal and the National Catholic Reporter submitted a legal filing that argued the public has a right to access the documents concerning a legal challenge to the will of Gabrielle Mee.
Mee, a member of the Legion of Christ’s lay movement Regnum Christi, left $60 million to the congregation.
Mee’s niece, Mary Lou Dauray, challenged the will in court. She said her aunt, who died in 2008, had been defrauded by the order into leaving her fortune to it.
Since Mee’s death, the Legion of Christ has been through major turmoil following revelations that its founder Fr. Marciel Maciel had sexually abused seminarians and fathered children by at least two women.
Fr. Maciel had given financial advice to Mee, while another priest helped her with estate planning.
Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein threw out Dauray’s challenge in September on the grounds she lacked standing to sue. However, he said the transfer of money from “a steadfastly spiritual elderly woman to her trusted but clandestinely dubious religious leaders” raises “a red flag.”
Dauray’s attorney Bernard Jackvony, a former Rhode Island lieutenant governor, plans to appeal the ruling.
He told the AP that the case documents contain information about the Legion that is not known to the public. He favors their unsealing.
However, Fair defended the Legion. “We believe our actions with regard to Mrs. Mee and her estate were appropriate and honorable and are confident we will prevail in any legal actions in this regard,” he said.
Mee became a consecrated laywoman for Regnum Christi in 1991. Fair said she was a benefactor of the Legion of Christ and apostolates like Mater Ecclesiae, Inc. because “that way she could fulfill the wishes of her late husband and her own to help the Roman Catholic Church.”