PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island — Lawyers contesting the will of a widow who gave some $60 million to a secretive and disgraced Roman Catholic religious order are trying again to have their case heard, filing court papers in an attempt allow the woman’s niece to sue.
The papers, filed Wednesday with the Rhode Island Supreme Court, argue that Mary Lou Dauray has the right to intervene in the estate of her late aunt, Gabrielle Mee, a devout Catholic who gave most of her money to the conservative religious order the Legion of Christ. Mee died in 2008.
The lawyers seek to overturn a ruling by Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein, who threw out Dauray’s lawsuit last year, saying she had no standing to sue. But he said at the same time that evidence existed that Mee was unduly persuaded to give the Legion her money and detailed how the Legion slowly took control of her finances as she became more deeply involved in the movement.
A church investigation determined that the Legion’s founder, the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, sexually molested seminarians and fathered three children. The Vatican took over the order in 2010 and Pope Benedict XVI ordered a wholesale reform.
Dauray’s lawyers have said that Mee was defrauded by an order whose leaders orchestrated an effort to hide its founder’s misdeeds from her aunt. Silverstein said in throwing out the lawsuit that some of what was before the court raised a red flag because Mee transferred millions to “clandestinely dubious religious leaders.”
In Wednesday’s filings, Dauray’s lawyers argue that Dauray is legally interested in Mee’s estate and that Mee’s most recent will was obtained by fraud and undue influence by the Legion.
Silverstein said in his opinion in part that Dauray disavowed her interest when she said during a deposition that she didn’t want anything for herself from Mee’s estate, but instead wanted it to go to charity. Wednesday’s filing argues that comment should not have been taken as Mee disavowing her interest.
The Legion must file a response with the court by early August. The order has not studied the filing yet but expects to prevail, said spokesman Jim Fair.