The New Orleans Saints may have been more involved in the Catholic church’s sex abuse scandal than the team initially let on. Documents show the Saints had been in contact with the church earlier than they admitted, and that multiple team executives were working with the church, according to Sports Illustrated.
The Saints are under fire after after a lawsuit uncovered emails that showed the team communicating with the church amid the sex abuse scandal. Saints owner Gayle Benson is Catholic, and close friends with New Orleans archbishop Gregory Aymond. Benson also owns the New Orleans Pelicans.
Benson, 73, admitted the team gave PR advice to the church, but claimed the Saints urged the church to be “transparent” in its response. In a statement, Benson said Greg Bensel, the team’s vice president of communications, communicated with the church “in the weeks” leading up to the church releasing a list of names of the members who had credible evidence against it.
That timeline, however, has come into question. Emails show Bensel was communicating with the church much earlier than that, according to Sports Illustrated.
But an SI review of case files and public records suggests that the team was significantly more involved in the archdiocese’s response to the sexual abuse crisis than it had acknowledged. When questioned by SI, the Saints conceded that a top executive had advised the Church on PR months before the release of the list, apparently shifting the timeline the team has promoted since January. A lawyer for the team said that, in the summer before the list’s release, Saints senior vice president of communications Greg Bensel advised Archbishop Aymond on general press strategy related to the abuse crisis.
One of the emails between Bensel and the church occurred in July 2018, three months before the church announced it would be releasing the list.
On top of that, Bensel wasn’t the only member of the Saints communicating with the church. Multiple Saints executives used team email addresses to help “protect the Church’s image,” according to Sports Illustrated.
After receiving a subpoena, the Saints produced 305 emails between the team and the church. The team marked 276 of those emails as confidential, and is currently fighting to keep those emails private. While a retired judge who was brought in to help with the case ruled in the Saints’ favor, the judge appointed to the case has yet to make a ruling on the matter after the local archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in May, freezing all civil proceedings.
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