RI court declines to delay release of Legion of Christ docs; records could be unsealed Friday

Documents related to a disgraced Roman Catholic organization called the Legion of Christ could soon be unsealed and available to the public following a decision Thursday by the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

The state's high court issued an order declining to delay the release of the sealed documents, which are related to a lawsuit contesting the will of a woman who left $60 million to the Legion. The Legion had argued that the records should remain under court seal because their contents could taint a future jury.

The documents could be available as early as Friday.

The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Providence Journal and the National Catholic Reporter had asked a Superior Court judge to unseal the documents, saying there was no justification to withhold documents that could shed light on the Legion's operations. Last month, the judge ordered the documents to be unsealed, but he gave the Legion until Friday to ask the Supreme Court to intervene.

Depending on how the documents are stored, some could be available Friday, according to Joseph Cavanagh, the attorney for the media organizations.

"Our issue is to find out exactly what records are there and in what format," he said.

In a statement, the Legion said it was "disappointed" that the documents are being unsealed. Legion spokesman Jim Fair said the Legion wouldn't fight to keep them under seal any further.

"There are yards of documents," Fair said. "It's done. They're public. This ends the debate."

The Legion, founded in Mexico City in 1941, calls itself a religious congregation of pontifical right and says its mission involves "extending the Kingdom of Christ in society," according to its website. The Vatican took over the Legion in 2010 after determining that its late founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, had sexually molested seminarians and fathered three children by two women.

The Legion, which has facilities in Rhode Island, has faced other complaints, including one from a Connecticut man who claims to be Maciel's son. Another Connecticut man has alleged the Legion used predatory means to persuade his ailing father to hand over hundreds of thousands of dollars, but the Legion says it doesn't pressure anyone to make a contribution.

The will of Gabrielle Mee, who died in 2008, is the focus of the current case. Mee's niece Mary Lou Dauray had sought to challenge the will, saying Mee had been defrauded by the Legion into leaving it her fortune. The judge last year threw out the challenge because he determined the niece lacked standing, and her attorney plans to appeal.

Dauray's attorney, Bernard Jackvony, also had sought the documents' release. He said the documents, compiled in the course of the lawsuit and sealed by a probate court judge in 2009, contain information about the Legion that isn't known by the public.