Legion of Christ accused of fleecing rich widow

Questionable fundraising tactics by the Legion of Christ have been revealed in court documents released in the United States.

The documents surfaced in a probate case in Rhode Island, in which Legion officials were accused of defrauding a wealthy widow, Gabrielle Mee, of tens of millions of dollars.

They remained sealed when the suit brought by Mee’s niece, Mary Lou Dauray, against the Legion and the Bank of America was dismissed last September. Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein had ruled that Dauray lacked legal standing to bring suit.

The judge’s 39-page ruling, however, raised suspicions of fraud by the Legion — whose founder, Father Marcial Maciel, was revealed to have sexual abused seminarians and fathered children by at least two women.

In 2006 Pope Benedict XVI dismissed Father Maciel from ministry to a “life of prayer and penitence”.

“The transfer of millions of dollars worth of assets — through will, trust and gifts — from a steadfastly spiritual, elderly woman to her trusted but clandestinely dubious spiritual leaders raises a red flag to this court,” the ruling said.

Mee died in 2008, aged 96.

Judge Silverstein released the documents in response to a petition from four media organisations, including the National Catholic Reporter.

Well before the revelations about Father Maciel, Mee entrusted her finances to the Legion. Court documents show that she gave millions of dollars to the Legion and also revised her will, giving 90 per cent of her assets to the Legionaires.

In 2000 she gave the Legion’s North American territorial director, Father Anthony Bannon, her power of attorney and appointed him executor of her estate.

The court documents included depositions alleging that the Legion isolated Mee from some relatives and even forbade her from visiting her sister before the sister died.

But the Legion maintained that Mee was independent, strong-willed and happy and was never coerced into anything. The fact she led a less-restrictive life than others in the Legion community where she had an apartment showed she freely gave them her money, it argued.


National Catholic Reporter

ABC News

Image: Rhode Island Judiciary

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