Saints Helped Shape Accused Clergy List, Victim Lawyers Say

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Written by Ann Brown
Saints
Did the NFL team the New Orleans Saints get involved in a clergy sex abuse case by shaping the list of priests from the New Orleans Archdiocese? Members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, including John Gianoli, right, and John Anderson, hold signs during a conference in front of the New Orleans Saints training facility Jan. 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton).

Did the NFL team the New Orleans Saints get involved in a clergy sex abuse case by shaping the list of priests? Lawyers for those suing the Roman Catholic Church say so. The team has admitted that it provided “minimal” public relations work for the church but nothing more.

The attorneys allege that there are hundreds of confidential Saints emails that show the team’s involvement in shaping a list of credibly accused clergy. 

The owner of the Saints, Gayle Benson, is devoutly Catholic and is close friends with the local archbishop. Benson has said the lawyers are misinterpreting the meaning of the emails.

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The lawyers for the plaintiffs claim the Saints executives helped the archdiocese in “concealing its crimes.” They point to one email from late 2018 that referred to Saints Senior Vice President of Communications Greg Bensel joining unnamed “third parties” to discuss “removing priests from the pedophile list.”

“Victims’ advocates have long argued that the New Orleans Archdiocese’s list of 57 credibly accused clergy since expanded by six more names, minimizes the problem. An Associated Press analysis of the list suggests it underestimated the actual number of publicly accused clergy members in the region by at least 20,” The AP reported.

In new court papers filed by lawyers for nearly two dozen men making sexual abuse claims against the Archdiocese of New Orleans claim that the Saints were much more involved than previously thought.

“This goes beyond public relations,” the attorneys wrote. They accuse the Saints of putting out misleading statements saying their work for the archdiocese involved only “messaging” and fielding media inquiries as part of the 2018 release of the clergy names.

But, say the lawyers, “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,” the attorneys wrote. They added, “It cannot now be disputed that the Saints had actual involvement in the creation of the pedophile list.”

In a lengthy statement, the Saints said: “Never did the Saints organization offer advice to conceal information,” the team’s statement said. “In fact, we advised that as new information relative to credible evidence about other clergy came to light, then those names should be released and given to the proper authorities.”

A statement from the New Orleans Archdiocese disputed the plaintiffs’ attorneys on the Saints’ role, saying it was “limited to guidance in releasing information to media.” According to the Archdiocese, the Saints did not advise on the content of the accused clergy list.

“The litigation has brought fresh attention to the process by which the New Orleans archdiocese came to produce its list of 57 names of clergy it deemed ‘credibly accused’ of sexually abusing minors — the first roster of its kind to be released in heavily Catholic Louisiana,” AP reported. 

In November 2018, the list was published, and an AP investigation found at least the names of 20 clergy members who were missing from the list though they had been accused in lawsuits or charged by law enforcement with child sexual abuse.