The New Orleans Saints are seeking to block the release of emails showing that members of the team’s management team helped the Archdiocese of New Orleans with public messaging regarding the 2018 release of a list of more than 50 clergy members “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.
According to a report by the Associated Press, attorneys for around two dozen men suing the Catholic church argued that 276 documents obtained through legal discovery showed that the New Orleans Saints aided the Archdiocese of New Orleans. In a public statement, the team confirmed this, saying, “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 clergy names in November of 2018.” The statement goes on to say that Greg Bensel, Senior Vice President of Communications for the Saints “offered input on how to work with the media.”
While the team adds that it has “no interest in concealing information from the press or public,” attorneys for the Saints stated in court that the emails in question were intended to be private and should not be “fodder for the public.”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case said in court filings, “Obviously, the Saints should not be in the business of assisting the Archdiocese and the Saints’ public relations team is not in the business of managing the public relations of criminals engaged in pedophilia. The Saints realize that if the documents at issue are made public, this professional sports organization also will be smearing itself.”
The National Football League has yet to weigh in on the matter, though they were informed of the case by the plaintiff’s attorneys because the emails in question were sent from an address using the team’s nfl.com domain. NFL policy forbids “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in” the league.
The Associated Press also issued a statement in support of the release of the emails as a matter of public interest. “This case does not involve intensely private individuals who are dragged into the spotlight,” the AP said, “but well-known mega-institutions that collect millions of dollars from local residents to support their activities.”
The Saints’ owner Gayle Benson is a devout Catholic who maintains a close relationship with New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond. Aymond is often an invited guest of Benson to team games and charitable events.
According to attorneys for the plaintiffs, the emails are important because they contain information that “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.” However, the team maintains that the advice that they gave to the Archdiocese was simply, “Be direct, open and fully transparent, while making sure that all law enforcement agencies were alerted.”
According to the AP News report, Bensel asked a spokeswoman for the archdiocese whether there would be “a benefit to saying we support a victims’ right to pursue a remedy through the courts.” However, the reply from archdiocese communication director Sarah McDonald was that “I don’t think we want to say we ‘support’ victims going to the courts, but we certainly encourage them to come forward.”
“The Saints have no interest in concealing information from the press or public,” the Saints statement says. “Until the documents are admitted into evidence at a public trial or hearing in the context of relative testimony…the use of the documents should be limited to the parties in the case and their attorneys.”
Jenn Bentley is a freelance writer and editor whose work has been featured in Big Easy Magazine, Wander No More, Yahoo News, The High Tech Society, FansShare, and more. In 2019 she was awarded the Bayou Brief’s “Most Fearless” Briefcase award for her reporting on the Drew Brees/Focus on the Family connection.