A foundation set up by the New Orleans Saints' ownership has donated at least $62 million to the Archdiocese of New Orleans and local Catholic pursuits over the last 12 years, according to Jim Mustian, Reese Dunklin and Brett Martel of the Associated Press.
The report comes amid questions as to the Saints' relationship with the archdiocese, particularly in regard to how the team advised the archdiocese when it released a list of clergy members who had been accused of sexual assault.
Lawyers representing victims of the abuse alleged in a lawsuit the Saints offered input on which names should be included on the list, per the AP's Jim Mustian:
"The Saints appear to have had a hand in determining which names should or should not have been included on the pedophile list.
"In order to fulfill this role ... the Saints must have known the specific allegations of sexual abuse against a priest ... and made a judgment call about whether those allegations by a particular victim against a named priest were, in its opinion, legitimate enough to warrant being included. ... It cannot now be disputed that the Saints had actual involvement in the creation of the pedophile list."
Team owner Gayle Benson issued a statement confirming Greg Bensel, the team's senior vice president of communications, worked with the archdiocese ahead of the list's release. However, she said his communication was limited to matters of public relations:
"Greg informed me that his recommendations were consistent with the Archdiocese and included: be honest, complete and transparent; own the past wrongs and find a solution to correct them and then define those solutions that are in place now to protect victims; be a leader in the Church by being the first Archdiocese in the country to release the full list of names, release all of the names of clergy that have credible evidence against them, regardless of whether they are male/female, dead or alive; and make sure that all law enforcement are given these names prior to the Archdiocese releasing them so they can be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
Benson added the Saints were "proud of the role" they played and didn't regret involving the franchise in the process.
She also said money donated by her and her late husband Tom was never given in order for "the Catholic Church to pay settlements or legal awards of any kind."
The AP's newest report highlights how close Archbishop Gregory Aymond has been to the Saints, to the point he "became almost a part of the team." Aymond helped Gayle and Tom Benson meet with Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, and he was an official witness when Tom amended his will to leave control of the Saints and New Orleans Pelicans to his wife.
The Saints are attempting to prevent the public release of emails between their personnel and the archdiocese.