February 16, 2013

Religious order defends bequest, records show

Documents shed light on the Legion of Christ, which a judge said influenced an elderly woman’s will.

The Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Documents detailing the dubious fundraising practices of a disgraced Roman Catholic religious order called the Legion of Christ were released to the public Friday, showing how the organization took control of an elderly woman's finances and persuaded her to bequeath it $60 million.

Marcial Maciel, Pope John Paul II
click image to enlarge

Pope John Paul II gives his blessing to the Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ, at the Vatican in 2004. A Vatican investigation later discredited Maciel.

2004 Associated Press File Photo

The records include the first-ever depositions of high-ranking Legion officials. They shed light on the inner workings of a secretive congregation placed under Vatican receivership after the Holy See determined that its founder was a spiritual fraud who sexually abused his seminarians and fathered three children with two women.

A Rhode Island Superior Court judge said last year that the documents raised a red flag because 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.

Pope Benedict XVI took over the Legion in 2010 after a Vatican investigation determined that its founder, the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, had lived a double life. The pope ordered a wholesale reform of the order and named a papal delegate to oversee it.

The Legion scandal is significant because it shows how the Holy See ignored credible allegations of abuse against Maciel for decades, all while holding him up as a model of sainthood for the faithful because he brought in money and men interested in entering priesthood. The scandal, which has tarnished the legacy of Pope John Paul II, is the most 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.

The will of Gabrielle Mee, who died at age 96 in 2008, is the focus of the lawsuit. Mee's niece, Mary Lou Dauray, had alleged that Mee 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, which has since been absorbed by Bank of America.

Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein ruled in September that Dauray could not sue, but he noted there was evidence that Mee had been unduly persuaded to change her trusts and will and give the Legion her money. Dauray's lawyer, Bernard Jackvony, said Friday that the documents being released show an orchestrated effort by higher-ups at the Legion to get Mee's money and cover up Maciel's misdeeds.

The Legion says its actions surrounding Mee and her estate were appropriate and honorable. It says it did not exert undue influence over her decision-making, and that the gifts she gave to the order were made of her own free will.

Among the documents being released are depositions given by top-ranking leadership of the Legion, including the Rev. Anthony Bannon, who was once Maciel's deputy, and the Rev. Luis Garza, current head of the Legion's North American operations.

In one deposition, Garza acknowledged that he was on a committee of Legion officials that was created to distribute funds from one of Mee's trusts exclusively for Legion activities.

 

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors




Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)