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R.I. judge hears bid to unseal Legion of Christ documents

PROVIDENCE — 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.

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The Vatican took over the Legion in 2010 after determining 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 threw out the challenge last month because he determined the niece lacked standing. An appeal is planned.

Joseph Cavanagh, attorney for the news organizations, told Silverstein 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.’’

The Legion’s attorney, Joseph Avanzato, said the news organizations are attempting to intervene in a case that is already settled. If Dauray appeals, however, Avanzato said the documents must be kept ­under seal to ensure that potential jurors approach the case with an open mind.

Silverstein did not say when he would rule on the request.

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