PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A Rhode Island judge heard arguments Monday in a legal tug-of-war over sealed documents relating to the Legion of Christ, a disgraced Roman Catholic religious order.
The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Providence Journal and the National Catholic Reporter want Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein to unseal documents from a lawsuit contesting the will of an elderly widow who left the Legion $60 million. The Legion argues that the information could taint prospective jurors and wants it to remain hidden from public view.
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 widow, Gabrielle Mee, died in 2008. Her niece Mary Lou Dauray had sought to challenge the will, saying her aunt had been defrauded by the order into leaving it her fortune. Silverstein last month threw out the challenge because he determined the niece lacked standing. Her attorney plans to appeal.
Joseph Cavanagh, attorney for the media organizations, told Silverstein that there was no justification to seal the documents, which he said could shed light on the Legion’s operations. He said the religious order was attempting to use the courts to avoid publicity.
‘‘This jury argument is a fake argument,’’ Cavanagh told Silverstein. ‘‘There’s a public interest argument here which clearly outweighs it. It shouldn’t be kept from the public.’’
The Legion’s attorney, Joseph Avanzato, said the media organizations are attempting to intervene in a case that’s already settled. Should Dauray appeal, however, Avanzato said the documents must be kept under seal to ensure potential jurors approach the case with an open mind. He said media coverage of the lawsuit has already been ‘‘prejudicial and inaccurate.’’
‘‘We would urge the court not to throw more fuel on that fire,’’ Avanzato said.
Silverstein did not say when he would rule on the request to unseal the documents.
Bernard Jackvony, Dauray’s attorney, is also seeking the documents’ release. Jackvony said the documents compiled in the course of the lawsuit contain information about the Legion that isn’t known by the public. The documents were sealed by a probate court judge in 2009.
The Legion, which has facilities in Rhode Island, has been the target of a petition from women once associated with the order and is being sued in Connecticut by a man who says he is Maciel’s son.