Saints Official Helped New Orleans Archdiocese Earlier Than Initially Reported

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistJune 17, 2020

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - DECEMBER 22: A helmet of the New Orleans Saints rests on the sideline during a game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium on December 22, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

A report from Jenny Vrentas of Sports Illustrated indicates the New Orleans Saints provided more extensive help to a local Roman Catholic archdiocese as it reacted to sexual abuse by clergy members than they initially revealed. 

Vrentas noted the Saints had previously said they offered "minimal" help to the Church and suggested it take an approach of being "fully transparent" when it released a list of 57 "credibly accused" clergy to the public in November 2018.

The Saints and owner Gayle Benson suggested they offered help on how to interact with the media at the time to Catholic Church and Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who has a close relationship with the team.

However, an attorney representing the Saints said senior vice president of communications Greg Bensel offered advice to Aymond months prior to the release of that list.

"Mr. Bensel did receive a call from the Archbishop during the summer asking Mr. Bensel for his opinion on the best way to handle the press and the negative series of media articles that were being written," attorney James Gulotta said. "Mr. Bensel suggested that the Archbishop call for and meet with the local newspaper's editorial board."

The Associated Press reported in February that a foundation for the Saints ownership provided at least $62 million to the Archdiocese of New Orleans and other entities involved with the Catholic Church, such as schools, universities, charities and parishes.

As that was happening, Aymond became quite close to Benson and husband Tom Benson, who died in 2018, and sometimes flew on their private plane and accompanied them to Saints and Pelicans games.

Gayle Benson said she has donated plenty of money but never to pay settlements or legal awards in relation to any clergy abuse. "To suggest that I would offer money to the Catholic Church for anything related to the clergy molestation issue sickens me," she wrote.

Mike Triplett of ESPN noted attorneys for the Saints, Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Associated Press went to court in February in an effort to publicize emails between the church and team. A judge has not issued a ruling.

According to Vrentas, New Orleans' Jesuit High School received a subpoena earlier this month requesting all communications with the Saints.

The NFL is monitoring the developments but has not started investigating the NFC South team.

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