The New Orleans Saints are going to court to keep the public from seeing hundreds of emails that allegedly show team executives doing public relations damage control for the area’s Roman Catholic archdiocese to help it contain the fallout from a burgeoning sexual abuse crisis.
Attorneys for about two dozen men suing the church say in court filings that the 276 documents they obtained through discovery show that the NFL team, whose owner is devoutly Catholic, aided the Archdiocese of New Orleans in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.”
“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 attorneys wrote in a court filing. “The Saints realize that if the documents at issue are made public, this professional sports organization also will be smearing itself.”
Saints attorneys, in court papers, disputed any suggestion that the team helped the church cover up crimes, calling such claims “outrageous.” They further said that the emails, exchanged in 2018 and 2019, were intended to be private and should not be “fodder for the public.” The archdiocese is also fighting the release of the emails.
The National Football League, which was advised of the matter by plaintiffs’ attorneys because the Saints’ emails used the team’s nfl.com domain, has not commented on the case. NFL policy says everyone who is a part of the league must refrain from “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in” the NFL.
A court-appointed special master is expected to hear arguments in the coming weeks on whether the communications should remain confidential.
The Associated Press, which has extensively covered clergy sexual abuse in a series of stories over the past year, filed a motion with the court supporting the release of the documents as a matter of public interest.
“This case does not involve intensely private individuals who are dragged into the spotlight,” the AP argued, “but well-known mega-institutions that collect millions of dollars from local residents to support their activities.”
Ties between local church leaders and the Saints include a close friendship between New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond and Gayle Benson, who inherited the Saints and the New Orleans Pelicans basketball team when her husband, Tom Benson, died in 2018. The archbishop was at Gayle Benson’s side as she walked in the funeral procession.
Gayle Benson has given millions of dollars to Catholic institutions in the New Orleans area, and the archbishop is a regular guest of hers at games and charitable events for the church.
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.”
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Source: Religion News Service