PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Documents released Friday shed light on the inner workings of a secretive and now-disgraced Roman Catholic order called the Legion of Christ, including new details on how the organization solicited money from an elderly widow, eventually persuading her to bequeath it $60 million.
The documents, previously sealed in a lawsuit brought before Superior Court in Rhode Island, include thousands of pages of testimony from high-ranking leaders at the Legion, its members and relatives of wealthy widow Gabrielle Mee. They are the first-ever depositions of high-ranking Legion officials and include how the order's former second-in-command learned in 2006 that its founder had fathered a child.
The No. 2 said he didn't go public with the news of the paternity because the founder, the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, had already been sanctioned by the Holy See for having sexually abused seminarians and forced into a lifetime of penance and prayer.
Pope Benedict XVI took over the Legion in 2010 after a Vatican investigation determined that Maciel had lived a double life, including fathering three children by two women. The pope ordered a wholesale reform of the order and named a papal delegate to oversee it.
A Rhode Island Superior Court judge said last year that the documents raised a red flag because Mee, a steadfastly spiritual elderly woman, transferred millions to "clandestinely dubious religious leaders." But they had been kept under seal until The Associated Press, The New York Times, the National Catholic Reporter and The Providence Journal intervened, arguing that they were in the public interest. The Legion had argued media coverage of the documents could taint prospective jurors if there was a trial.
The Legion scandal is significant because it shows how the Holy See willfully ignored credible allegations of abuse against Maciel for decades while holding him up as a model of sainthood for the faithful because he brought in money and vocations to the priesthood. The scandal, which has tarnished the legacy of Pope John Paul II, is cited as an especially egregious example of how the Vatican ignored decades of reports about sexually abusive priests because church leaders put the interests of the institution above those of the victims.
Mary Lou Dauray had alleged that her aunt, Mee, who died at age 96 in 2008, was defrauded by the Legion and unduly influenced by its priests into giving away her fortune. Her late husband was a onetime director of Fleet National Bank.
The Legion said that it didn't exert undue influence over her decision-making and that the gifts were made of her own will.
"Our actions with regard to Mrs. Mee and her estate were appropriate and honorable," Legion spokesman Jim Fair said. "We were respectful and diligent in carrying out her wishes in the handling of resources provided to the Legion."
In a separate lawsuit, Mee said in a 2001 deposition that she had "complete confidence and trust" in the Legion, despite never asking details of its activities.
Mee said she had met with Maciel and he told her the Legion was "in a crunch."