PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The niece of a woman who gave more than $60 million to a now-disgraced Catholic order is asking the Rhode Island Supreme Court to let her sue so the money can go somewhere more deserving.
The court is due to hear arguments Tuesday over lawsuits brought by Mary Lou Dauray against the Legion of Christ, whose founder secretly molested seminarians and fathered three children. Dauray’s aunt, Gabrielle Mee, died in 2008 and left everything she owned to the Legion.
A Superior Court judge ruled in 2012 that Dauray did not have standing to sue and threw out her lawsuits against the Legion of Christ and Bank of America, which Dauray claimed breached its fiduciary duty as the trustee of Mee’s estate.
When Judge Michael Silverstein issued that decision, however, he wrote there was evidence that the Legion had exerted undue influence on the widow.
The Legion was founded in 1941 by the late Rev. Marcial Maciel. Documents show Vatican officials knew about his abuse for decades but looked the other way as the conservative order brought in money and vocations. The Vatican took over the Legion in 2010 and launched a reform process which culminated this year with the election of a new government and approval of constitutions.
But priests and followers continue to leave the movement. The Legion announced in October that the college it owned in Smithfield, where Mee once lived as a consecrated member of its lay movement, would close next year.
Dauray has said she believes her aunt, a devout Catholic who did not have children, would not have wanted the money to go to the Legion given its history. She said she does not want the money for herself and would give anything she receives to charity.
“She’s not in this for personal gain,” Dauray’s lawyer, Bernard Jackvony, said.
The Legion and the bank argue that Dauray is not a legal beneficiary, and even if she were, Mee wanted her assets to go to charity and not to her estate or heirs.
“This is an undisputed fact. The record contains no evidence to the contrary,” the Legion’s lawyers wrote.
The bank also argues Dauray can’t show that it breached its fiduciary duty, and can’t prove Mee would not have wanted her money to go to the Legion.
“The Holy See has not imputed the failings of the organization’s founder to the organization as a whole,” the bank’s lawyer, Steven Snow, wrote.
A separate case against the Legion that also raises questions about donations from elderly supporters is pending in federal court in Rhode Island. In that case, the son of a late Yale University professor is suing over a $1 million bequest left by his father to the order.