A judge agreed on Friday to delay the release of documents related to a disgraced Roman Catholic organization called the Legion of Christ to give it time to appeal his earlier ruling unsealing them.
Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein gave the Legion until Feb. 15 to ask the state Supreme Court to intervene in the tug-of-war over the records, which are from a lawsuit filed by a woman contesting the will of a wealthy aunt who left the Legion $60 million.
The judge had ruled on Wednesday that the public had a right to access the documents despite concerns from the Legion's attorney, Joseph Avanzato, that they could taint a future jury. Avanzato, in asking the judge to stay his ruling, said Friday that it would be wrong to release the documents before the Legion had an opportunity to appeal the decision that unsealed them.
"The Legion has a right of appeal here, which would be destroyed if there is no stay," Avanzato said.
The Associated Press, The New York Times, The Providence Journal and the National Catholic Reporter had asked the judge to unseal the documents, saying they could shed light on the Legion's operations and there was no justification to seal them. The media organizations' attorney, Joseph Cavanagh, asked the judge not to grant the delay.
"He (Avanzato) keeps arguing that once the cat is out of the bag, they're done," Cavanagh said. "Let it out."
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 wealthy aunt whose will is the focus of the current case, Gabrielle Mee, a widow, died in 2008. Mee's niece Mary Lou Dauray had sought to challenge her 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.