The Associated Press released a report Friday morning that implicated the New Orleans Saints in assisting the Archdiocese of New Orleans in its alleged “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.”
The AP’s report by Jim Mustian said the team was heading to court to try to prevent the release of emails sent from the NFL.com domain. These messages “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,” the AP reported.
New Orleans Saints’ Attorneys Call Accusations ‘Outrageous’
Attorneys for approximately two dozen men suing the church say they have 276 documents obtained showing the Saints aided the Archdiocese, per the AP.
“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 said 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.”
For their part, the Saints organization has denied any wrongdoing. Attorneys representing the team disputed any cover-up suggestions, calling those claims “outrageous.” The Saints’ lawyers also noted they were fighting the release of the emails, which were sent in 2018 and 2019 because they were intended to be private and not “fodder for the public.” The archdiocese is also fighting the release of the emails, according to the AP’s report.
AP Report: ‘Multiple’ Saints Personnel Were Involved
Attorneys for the men suing the Catholic church allege that “multiple” Saints personnel, including Senior Vice President of Communications Greg Bensel, used their team email accounts to give the church “messaging” advice. The allegations also state the emails advised on “how to soften the impact of the archdiocese’s release of a list of clergy members ‘credibly accused’ of sexual abuse,” according to the AP.
The NFL has yet to comment, but the ties between the Saints organization and the Catholic church in New Orleans are plentiful and prominent. The Associated Press report details that there there is a “close friendship” between the New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond and Gayle Benson, current team owner of the Saints. Benson inherited the Saints following the passing of her husband, Tom Benson in 2018.
In their court filing requesting the emails be kept private, the Saints’ attorneys did acknowledge that the team assisted the archdiocese in “its publishing of the credibly accused clergy list, but said that was an act of disclosure — ‘the opposite of concealment,'” according to the AP.
The New Orleans Saints released a statement about the issue later Friday afternoon on their social media sites.
The Saints’ organization denied any wrongdoing, and assured they were completely transparent in the statement:
“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 Saints have no interest in concealing information from the press or public.”
The full statement released by the team can be read here.