And Then The Saints Came Marching In
In 2018, the Archdiocese of New Orleans released the names of more than 50 clergy members credibly accuse of sexually abusing children. But before doing that, they emailed the owners and management of the New Orleans Saints football team for advice on how to manage the crisis. As one does.
Now, attorneys representing the two dozen men suing the archdiocese want to release those 276 emails, which they say prove that the Saints helped the archdiocese with their messaging, and aided in a "pattern and practice of concealing its crimes," and the Saints are taking them to court to prevent this.
"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 wrote 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." [...]
"The information at issue bears a relationship to these crimes because it is a continuation of the Archdiocese's pattern and practice of concealing its crimes so that the public does not discover its criminal behavior," wrote plaintiffs' attorneys Richard Trahant, John Denenea Jr. and Soren Gisleson. "And the Saints joined in."
The team's executives have a long-standing relationship with the archdiocese. Gayle Benson, who recently inherited the team after the passing of her husband, is a devout Catholic and friend of Archbishop Gregory Aymond. The emails include correspondence with a number of Saints personnel, including Senior Vice President of Communications Greg Bensel, who advised them on messaging during the crisis.
The emails are at issue because of a litany of lawsuits against the church regarding former deacon George F. Brignac, who was just indicted last month on charges of raping a little boy back in the 1970s (there is no statute of limitations for child sex abuse in Louisiana). Although Brignac was defrocked in 1988 after being accused of molesting a 7-year-old boy, the Church kept him around for years and years afterwards, allowing him to continue as a lay minister and in a leadership position in the Knights of Columbus. Although, to be fair, the church did have him sign a paper swearing to not molest any more little boys "for the good of the Church," and surely that kept him on the straight and narrow.
The Saints have put out a press release claiming that the only advice they ever gave the archdiocese was to be totally open and honest about all of the sex abuse and alert law enforcement agencies:
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.
That would be super believable if they were not suing to keep those emails private. I don't know about you, but if I had sent the Catholic Church a bajillion emails telling them to handle things in the way they described, I would want the whole world to see them. Who doesn't want free PR like that? And what could possibly be in them that is worse than not releasing them and having everyone speculate about why?
The press release also says that they aren't going to court to prevent the mails from being released to the press and the public because they are worried about something bad coming out, but because they so love the normal rules of civil discovery.
It's entirely possible that this is true and the emails are perfectly innocent, but, well, it is the Catholic Church.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse