Clergy Abuse New Orleans Saints

FILE - In this March 21, 2018, file photo, Gayle Benson, widow of NFL New Orleans Saints and NBA New Orleans Pelicans owner Tom Benson, walks down the steps to receive his casket with New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond for visitation at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. Attorneys for several men suing the Roman Catholic church say documents they obtained through discovery show that the New Orleans Saints team aided the Archdiocese of New Orleans in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.” (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

In a Jan. 24 article from the Associated Press, it was revealed that executive staffers for the New Orleans Saints assisted Archbishop Gregory Aymond with extensive PR damage control following the 2018 sexual abuse scandals.

The assistance came in the wake of public outrage, at a time when over fifty Roman Catholic clergymen were implicated in allegations of sexual abuse. 

Spokesmen for over two dozen alleged victims, who are now pursuing a lawsuit against the church, claim to have proof of the Saints’ involvement in an institutional cover-up and have since filed a motion for the public release of several related emails exchanged between Aymond and the team. 

Saints executives have since been appearing in court in order to appeal for the motion to be dismissed. 

Shortly after the report dropped, the Saints issued a public statement, admitting to having been contacted by Aymond in 2018. However, the team adamantly denied a cover-up, claiming that Senior Vice President of Communications Greg Bensel simply urged the archbishop to be "direct, open, and fully transparent" with law enforcement and media.

And, in case you’re wondering why the archbishop chose to reach out to the Saints for help in the midst of this crisis, it certainly wasn’t because of the team’s name. In reality, his decision probably had to do more with the fact that devout Roman Catholic and Saints-owner Gayle Benson—who inherited the team from her late husband, mogul Tom Benson—is a longtime friend of Aymond’s and a significant benefactor of the archdiocese. 

Like all franchises in the NFL, the Saints are privately owned. As such, Benson was acting well within her rights as the owner when she chose to lend out the team’s assets in support of the church. 

Without an indictment by a grand jury, there’s no statutory precedent for such private and presumably sensitive trade documents to be made subject to public record. If the court were to rule in favor of publicizing the emails, it would be a landmark breach of the conventions of civil discovery.

In that regard at least, I understand that there are professional and legal stakes behind the Saints’ current efforts to protect these documents. Still, I wonder: in the face of mounting scrutiny from the press, might it not be in the Saints’ best interest to release the emails themselves, rather than wait for the court's decision?

If their correspondence with Aymond does square with the claims made in their official statement, why not prove it? Inquiring minds want to know.

Overall, it seems unlikely that the emails will be released any time soon either by means of a court order or by an independent motion on the team’s part. In the event that the suit against the archdiocese goes to trial, the related documents may be entered into evidence by the court, at which point they will immediately become public record. 

Given the seriousness of the charges brought up by the suit, a grand jury is likely to make an indictment in the case; frankly, any other outcome would represent an upsetting miscarriage of due process. 

As for what evidence the emails might contain about the alleged abuse itself? For now, that remains to be seen. At the moment, the Saints are under no legal obligation to release the records of their correspondence with Aymond and the church.

I imagine, though, that the longer the emails stay buried, the more questions will arise concerning what it might be, exactly, that Benson and her Saints are trying to keep from seeing the light of day. 

Grace Pulliam is an 18-year-old creative writing major from Zachary, Louisiana. 

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