A late Yale University professor's family should be allowed to sue the disgraced Roman Catholic order the Legion of Christ over a more than $1 million bequest, a federal magistrate judge in Rhode Island recommended.
The retired mechanical engineering professor, James Boa-Teh Chu, was living in East Providence, R.I., before he died in 2009. His son, Paul Chu, sued in U.S. District Court in Providence in 2012, saying his father was coerced, defrauded and deceived into signing over many of his assets to the Legion.
Among the allegations made in the lawsuit, Chu says members of the order convinced his devout father that the Legion's founder, the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, was a saint, even as the church was investigating allegations against him including sex abuse. The Vatican took over the order in 2010 and Pope Benedict XVI ordered a wholesale reform.
The Legion has denied the lawsuit's allegations, saying everything was handled appropriately and that it doesn't pressure anyone to make a contribution. It asked to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing Paul Chu, executor of his father's estate and his only child, does not have standing to sue.
But in a report and recommendation filed last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan said he does have standing and recommended the lawsuit be allowed to continue. U.S. District Judge Ronald Lagueux will have final say, and both sides are allowed to file objections with him before he makes a decision.
Sullivan's report doesn't address the merits of Paul Chu's claims, only whether he has standing.
Chu's father became a member of the Legion's lay movement, Regnum Christi, in 1997, when he was still working at Yale. He stopped teaching in 2003, and medical records show he was treated for dementia in his later years. In 1998, he named the Legion as the sole beneficiary of all annuities he held, worth $1 million to $2 million when he died. The sides dispute whether he ever changed his beneficiary.
Sullivan's report says the Catholic professor held a "deep regard for the sanctity of Father Maciel" and that "was a significant factor driving his commitment to the Legion." Paul Chu said in court documents his father told him in 1999 that any misgivings he had about the Legion had been dispelled by his belief that Maciel was a saint, according to Sullivan.
"After Dr. Chu's death, Paul found documents evidencing that the Legion was fostering this image of Father Maciel in Dr. Chu's mind at the same time that it was aware of the facts being uncovered by the Vatican's investigation," Sullivan wrote.
The federal lawsuit echoes some of the same allegations made in a lawsuit brought in state court by the niece of a woman who gave some $60 million to the order. In that case, a Superior Court judge found the niece did not have standing to sue. That case is being appealed to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.