New Orleans Saints Allegedly Gave Catholic Diocese PR Help Amid Sex Abuse Crisis

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistJanuary 24, 2020

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 13: The New Orleans Saints logo is pictured during the NFC Divisional Playoff against the Philadelphia Eagles at the Mercedes Benz Superdome on January 13, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

A court-appointed special master will hear arguments from the New Orleans Saints to prevent the release of emails from team executives that reportedly show them offering public relations help to the city's Roman Catholic archdiocese as it dealt with multiple allegations of sexual abuse against its clergy members. 

Per Jim Mustian of the Associated Press on Friday, attorneys for the 12 plaintiffs in the lawsuit found through discovery that the Saints "aided the Archdiocese of New Orleans in its 'pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.'"

A full list of Saints executives involved wasn't listed, but the team's senior vice president of communications Greg Bensel was mentioned. "Multiple" team personnel were also said to have used their team-affiliated email addresses to advise church officials about their messaging and "how to soften the impact of the archdiocese’s release of a list of clergy members 'credibly accused' of sexual abuse."

The Saints responded to Mustian's report with a statement about their involvement:

"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 team also denied trying to conceal any information from the media or public, but "merely requested the court to apply the normal rules of civil discovery to the documents that the Saints produced and delivered to Mr. Doe's counsel."

If the documents and testimony are admitted into evidence for the case, the Saints said they "will become part of the public record of the trial of the case."

Mustian added Saints attorneys acknowledged in a court filing that the team assisted the archdiocese in publishing a list of credibly accused clergy members in an act of disclosure. 

In November 2018, Archbishop Gregory Aymond released a list of 57 clergy members who were credibly accused of sexually abusing minors across multiple decades. Living members of the Archdiocese of New Orleans accused were removed from the ministry. 

Saints owner Gayle Benson, through the Gayle and Tom Benson Charitable Foundation, has donated money to Catholic institutions in New Orleans. The foundation gave $3.5 million to Second Harvest Food Bank, an affiliated ministry of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, in March. 

Archbishop Gregory Aymond walked alongside Gayle at Tom Benson's funeral in March 2018. 

Following Tom's death, Gayle inherited the Saints from her husband. She also owns the NBA's New Orleans Pelicans. 

No official court date for the Saints' argument has been set, but Mustian noted the special master will likely hear arguments in the coming weeks.