PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A federal judge in Rhode Island has agreed to let a lawsuit move forward against the Roman Catholic religious order the Legion of Christ, turning down an attempt by the disgraced order to end the lawsuit brought over a late Yale University professor's $1 million bequest.
U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux signed an order last week to adopt a magistrate judge's recommendation that the lawsuit be allowed to proceed. The decision does not address the merits of Paul Chu's claims, only whether he has standing to sue.
It's the second lawsuit making its way through the courts in Rhode Island that raises questions about how the Legion secured large donations from elderly supporters. The other is in state court and involves around $60 million left by a wealthy widow. It was dismissed because the judge found the woman's niece did not have standing to sue, but a state Supreme Court appeal is pending.
In the federal lawsuit, Chu, the son of retired mechanical engineering professor James Boa-Teh Chu, says his father was wrongly coerced, defrauded and deceived into signing over $1 million to $2 million to the Legion before he died in 2009. He says his father, who lived in East Providence, R.I., was led to believe the Legion's founder, the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, was a saint, even as the Vatican was investigating serious sexual abuse allegations about him.
The Legion denies the allegations and has said it doesn't pressure anyone to contribute.
"The Legion has behaved correctly in relation to Mr. Chu and expects to prevail in the case," Paul Fair, a Legion spokesman, said in an email Thursday.
Chu's lawyer, John Flanagan, said they looked forward to having a "full, long jury trial to determine the issues."
Chu's father was a member of the Legion's lay movement, Regnum Christi. The magistrate judge found that he held a "deep regard for the sanctity of Father Maciel" and that after his death, his son found documents that he believes show evidence that Legion officials fostered that image even as a Vatican investigation was uncovering troubling facts about Maciel.
The investigation ultimately found that he had sexually abused seminarians and fathered at least three children with two women. The Vatican took over the order in 2010. A three-year reform effort was ended last week by the pope's envoy.