PROVIDENCE, R.I. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Legion of Christ (LC) is facing a lawsuit that could cost them millions. Last week, a Rhode Island judge allowed Americans United for Life (AUL), a pro-life group, to continue its suit against the religious order. The lawsuit alleges the LC interfered with an inheritance AUL was supposed to receive from Gabrielle Mee, a widow worth $60 million dollars.
The AUL is accusing the LC of convincing Mee to leave her entire fortune to the Legion, thereby cutting AUL out of her will. This lawsuit is another legal battle for the order, which is still dealing with fallout from Fr. Marcial Maciel's sexual abuse, founder of the LC. An official investigation by the Vatican found that Maciel sexually abused minors (including his own children), seminarians and had three children with mistresses, and forced him in 2006 into retirement, counseling him to spend the rest of his days in prayer and penance
Jim Fair, spokesman for the LC, commented, "We believe the Legion of Christ acted appropriately in its relationship with Mrs. Mee." Rhode Island Judge Michael Silverstein didn't dismiss the entire suit against the LC, although he did dismiss the claims of fraud and undue influence in the lawsuit.
Bernard Jackvony, a lawyer for AUL, commented that Silverstein's decision is a "landmark," and further said, "This case opens up another remedy in situations where there's been elderly abuse." In the lawsuit filed last year, AUL alleged that Mee left 10 percent of her fortune to AUL in a 1991 will.
Later on, she amended the will to leave everything to the LC. In a previous lawsuit filed by Mee's niece, she alleged that her aunt was deceived by the LC concerning Maciel's abuses, and swindled money out of her money through "clandestinely dubious religious leaders." Mee was a member of Regnum Christi, the LC's lay group, and had become a consecrated woman in her later years. As a consecrated layperson, Mee was expected to hand over her assets to the LC as part of her vow of poverty.
All Regnum Christi third-degree members, including Mee, are expected to:
renounce their licit right to use and exercise ownership over any material good without the permission of their legitimate directors. Anything a consecrated member acquires through his work or as a donation, and everything he receives as a salary, pension, grant or insurance, regardless of how it is obtained, is to be sent to the general fund of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ. After 15 years of consecrated life, a member is to donate half of his assets to the general fund, and after twenty-five years, all of his present and future assets.
When asked why she joined the lay order, Mee remarked, "[Regnum Christi is] doing much of what I'd been doing. I was a daily person going to Mass, and I got to know a lot about them, and I decided, well, that was the way I was going." Mee died in 2008, completely unaware that Maciel had fathered three children and was in fact guilty of sexual abuse.
In addition to these suits, two other legal actions have been brought against the LC in recent years. Two of Maciel's sons have sued the LC in Connecticut, alleging that the order should've known the danger Maciel posed to them, considering that the Vatican and the LC knew of Maciel's long history as a sexual predator and abuser.
Court documents shared by both sons cite letters to the Vatican from various Church officials confirming Maciel's double life as a sex abuser In a separate case, a former student with the LC filed a lawsuit against a former high-ranking official in the order, alleging sexual abuse. The Rev. Luis Garza, the accused priest, has denied the allegations.