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The New Orleans Saints’ involvement in Catholic abuse scandal, explained

Team executives allegedly advised PR efforts for the Archdiocese of New Orleans amid sexual abuse claims.

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New Orleans Saints v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

The New Orleans Saints are attempting to shield hundreds of emails that allegedly show team executives advising the public relations efforts of the Archdiocese of New Orleans amid sexual abuse claims. According to an Associated Press report released on Jan. 24, attorneys representing those suing the church obtained 276 documents that show the team aiding the archdiocese in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes,” as stated in a court filing.

The Saints’ attorneys argue the emails were intended to be private. The archdiocese is also attempting to stop the emails, which were exchanged in 2018 and 2019, from being released to the public.

The Saints are connected to the archdiocese through owner Gayle Benson

Benson has reportedly donated millions to Catholic institutions throughout New Orleans, and she purportedly shares a close friendship with New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond. The archbishop is a regular guest of Benson’s at Saints games, as well as charity events for the church. She inherited the Saints, along with the New Orleans Pelicans, when her husband Tom died in 2018. According to the Associated Press report, the emails sent from Saints staffers advised church officials on responding to sexual abuse allegations:

Attorneys for the men suing the church say “multiple” Saints personnel, including senior vice president of communications Greg Bensel, used their team email to advise church officials on “messaging” and how to soften the impact of the archdiocese’s release of a list of clergy members “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.

“The information at issue bears a relationship to these crimes because it is a continuation of the archdiocese’s pattern and practice of concealing its crimes so that the public does not discover its criminal behavior,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote. “And the Saints joined in.”

In another 2018 exchange, Bensel, who has been with the Saints for 22 seasons, asked if it would be helpful to say the archdiocese supports a victim’s “right to pursue a remedy through the courts.”

“I don’t think we want to say we ‘support’ victims going to the courts,” replied the archdiocese’s communications director Sarah McDonald, “but we certainly encourage them to come forward.”

An additional Associated Press report released on Jan. 30 says that according to court filings by attorneys, the Saints were also allegedly helping shape the list of accused clergy members.

“This goes beyond public relations,” the attorneys wrote in court papers obtained by the AP, and adding that the Saints claiming their work for the archdiocese involved only “messaging” and handling media inquiries as part of the 2018 release of the clergy names was misleading.

“The Saints appear to have had a hand in determining which names should or should not have been included on the pedophile list,” attorneys added.

The Saints released a statement on Jan. 24, shortly after the AP’s initial report was released.

Below is an excerpt from the statement, which can be read in it’s entirety here:

While there is current litigation relative to the New Orleans Archdiocese and clergy sex abuse, our comments are limited only to the scope of our involvement. The New Orleans Saints organization has always had a very strong relationship with the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese reached out to a number of community and civic minded leaders seeking counsel on handling the pending media attention that would come with the release of the clergy names in November of 2018.

Greg Bensel, Senior Vice President of Communications for the New Orleans Saints, was contacted and offered input on how to work with the media. The advice was simple and never wavering. Be direct, open and fully transparent, while making sure that all law enforcement agencies were alerted. The New Orleans Saints, Greg Bensel and Mrs. Gayle Benson were and remain offended, disappointed and repulsed by the actions of certain past clergy. We remain steadfast in support of the victims who have suffered and pray for their continued healing.

The NFL was advised by the plaintiffs’ attorneys of the emails because they were sent using the domain, but according to a Jan. 29 report from The Athletic, the league will not be investigating the Saints over the emails, and it didn’t plan to “unless Saints emails show troublesome actions.”

The abuse allegations stem largely from the archdiocese’s employment of longtime deacon and schoolteacher George F. Brignac, who was accused of sexually abusing several boys. He was acquitted on three counts of indecent behavior with a juvenile in 1978 and removed from the ministry in 1988, but was allowed to practice as a lay minister until local reporting resulted in his ouster in 2018. Brignac was indicted in December 2019 on a rape charge stemming from another allegation from the 1970s.

This story will be updated with more information as it develops.