Relatives Challenge Woman's Will Leaving Estate To Catholic Church Order
When Gabrielle Mee died in May 2008 on the Greenville, R.I., campus of the Legionaries of Christ, her caregivers mourned the loss of the order's "grandmother."
Leaders of the secretive Roman Catholic order rushed from Connecticut and New York to pay their final respects. Six of her consecrated "sisters" carried her plain wooden coffin to the cemetery where she was buried next to her husband, Timothy Mee.
None of her family attended the service for Mee, who was 96 when she died. In fact, many of her relatives didn't find out that Gabrielle Mee had died until nearly a year later when a letter from the Legionaries' lawyer arrived, notifying them that the Probate Court in North Smithfield, R.I., was about to administer her will.
What relatives discovered is that since the mid-1990s Gabrielle Mee steadily turned over real estate and money — upwards of $7.5 million — to the Legionaries of Christ, which is headquartered in Orange, Conn.
Stunned family members are accusing the church of taking advantage of a lonely, deeply religious older woman. They have hired a Providence attorney to contest her will.
"As I started to research who this group really was it became clear that this is a cult that kept her isolated," said Mary Lou Dauray, Mee's goddaughter.
Although it is difficult to overturn a will, the family is hoping the order's sex scandal involving its founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, will be taken into consideration. The Courant reported in 1997 that Degollado was accused of molesting at least nine boys, aged 10 to 16, in seminaries in Spain and Italy in the 1950s and '60s.
And just earlier this year it was revealed that Degollado had fathered an illegitimate child, followed by the news that Pope Benedict XVI was ordering a papal investigation of the Legionaries of Christ. Degollado died in 2008 at age 87.
Family members believe that if Gabrielle Mee — who had received Holy Communion every day of her life since she was 12 years old — knew about the sex scandal and Vatican investigation, she would not have made the church her beneficiary. They are hoping to convince the probate judge of that.
Family members are expected to ask the judge to hold a full hearing.None of the family is named in the will. Sherman said that would allow him to subpoena bank records and depose people.
The Dauray family — with many members living in Rhode Island — acknowledge that they didn't try to visit Mee often.
They don't want the Legionaries to end up with all her money, even if the family doesn't get any.
"Her money should go to a cause not involved with a cult," Mary Lou Dauray said. "Not necessarily us but to some charity."
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