But the judge noted that the documents filed under seal raised a red flag. He referred to the Legion's top officials as "clandestinely dubious religious leaders," and said there was evidence that Mee had been unduly persuaded to change her trusts and will.
Bernard Jackvony, the lawyer for Mee's niece, said taken as a whole, the depositions expose how the Legion knew by 2004 that the Vatican was investigating Maciel for sexual abuse and by 2006 that he had a daughter yet kept the information private. He argued that Mee never would have given the Legion her money had she known of Maciel's true nature.
"In terms of fraud, when you withhold information from people, that's the same as if you said something to them that's not true," he said.
The Legion said Friday it didn't exert undue influence over Mee's decision-making and she made her gifts 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."
Among other documents released Friday was 2001 testimony from Mee in a separate lawsuit, showing her complete trust in the Legion.
"I know they needed money and what their dealings were, and I have complete confidence and trust. I know it's all above board. It's all very honest," she said. "I know no details and I don't ask."
The documents in Dauray's lawsuit were kept under seal until the AP, The New York Times, the National Catholic Reporter and The Providence Journal intervened, arguing that the documents were in the public interest. The Legion argued that media coverage of the documents could taint prospective jurors if there was a trial.
Winfield reported from Rome. Contributing to this report are Associated Press writers Matt Brown in Billings, Mont., Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia and Chris Sherman in McAllen, Texas, and AP Projects Editor Brooke Lansdale in New York.