PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The Associated Press and three other news organizations Tuesday filed legal papers asking a Rhode Island judge to unseal documents in a lawsuit contesting the will of an elderly widow who gave some $60 million to the Legion of Christ, a disgraced Roman Catholic religious order.
The New York Times, The Providence Journal and the National Catholic Reporter joined the AP in submitting a legal filing arguing that the public has a right to access the documents and rejecting the Legion's argument that press coverage of them could taint prospective jurors. Pope Benedict XVI took over the Legion in 2010 after a Vatican investigation determined its founder, the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, had sexually molested seminarians and fathered three children by two women.
The woman's niece, Mary Lou Dauray, had sought to challenge Gabrielle Mee's will, saying her aunt had been defrauded by the order into leaving it her fortune. Mee died in 2008. Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein last month threw out the challenge because he determined the niece lacked standing. However, in his decision Silverstein noted that Maciel gave Mee financial advice and another priest helped her with estate planning.
"The transfer of millions of dollars worth of assets _ through will, trust and gifts _ from a steadfastly spiritual elderly woman to her trusted but clandestinely dubious religious leaders raises a red flag to this court," Silverstein wrote.
Bernard Jackvony, Dauray's attorney, said he plans to appeal the ruling. He is now seeking the release of documents from the lawsuit. Jackvony said the documents compiled in the course of the lawsuit contain information about the Legion that isn't known by the public. The documents were sealed by a probate court judge in 2009.
"I don't think there were proper grounds to keep them under seal," he said.
An attorney for the Legion has argued that releasing the documents could compromise the Legion's right to a fair trial. A call to the order's attorney, Joseph Avanzato, was not immediately returned on Tuesday.
The Legion has facilities in Rhode Island, has been the target of a petition from women once associated with the order and is being sued in Connecticut by a man who says he is Maciel's son.