Attorneys say New Orleans Saints helped shape list of clergy accused of sexual abuse for archdiocese

 
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 30, 2020 5:55 pm    Post subject: Attorneys say New Orleans Saints helped shape list of clergy accused of sexual abuse for archdiocese

https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/28599163/attorneys-say-saints-helped-shape-list-clergy-accused-sexual-abuse-archdiocese

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Attorneys say Saints helped shape list of clergy accused of sexual abuse for archdiocese

NEW ORLEANS -- The New Orleans Saints say they only did "minimal" behind-the-scenes public relations work on the areas Roman Catholic sexual abuse crisis, but attorneys suing the church allege hundreds of confidential Saints emails show the team's involvement went much deeper, helping to shape a list of credibly accused clergy that appears to be undercounted.

New court papers filed this week by lawyers for about two dozen men making sexual abuse claims against the Archdiocese of New Orleans gave the most detailed description yet of the emails that have rocked the NFL team and remain shielded from the public.

"This goes beyond public relations," the attorneys wrote, accusing the Saints of issuing misleading statements saying their work for the archdiocese involved only "messaging" and handling media inquiries as part of the 2018 release of the clergy names.

Instead, they wrote, "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."

That list, the Saints' role in it and how accurate it was have become key questions in a controversy that has swirled around the team since news of the emails broke last week.

Victims' advocates have long argued that the New Orleans archdiocese 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.

Plaintiffs' attorneys alleged in earlier court papers that Saints executives joined in the archdiocese's "pattern and practice of concealing its crimes," and one email from late 2018 referred to Greg Bensel, the Saints' senior vice president of communications, joining unnamed "third parties" in a discussion about "removing priests from the pedophile list."

It was not clear which other Saints officials may have been involved.

The Saints, whose devoutly Catholic owner Gayle Benson is close friends with the local archbishop, have disputed as "outrageous" any suggestion that the team helped cover up crimes. They have accused plaintiffs' attorneys of mischaracterizing what is in the emails.

Even as the team's attorneys went to court to keep the 276 documents from being released to the public, they said in a court filing this week that "neither the Saints nor any of their personnel have anything to hide."

The team says it does not object to the emails becoming public later if they are admitted into evidence in the case.

In a lengthy statement Wednesday, the Saints said Bensel advised the archdiocese to be "direct, open and fully transparent" when it released its list to the media and to make sure all law enforcement agencies were alerted.

"Never did the Saints organizations 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."

In its own statement Thursday, the New Orleans archdiocese disputed the plaintiffs' attorneys on the Saints' role, saying it was "limited to guidance in releasing information to media" and not advising on the content of the accused clergy list.

The NFL has not responded to repeated queries from The Associated Press about whether such public relations work by the team was appropriate or violated league conduct policies.

But victims' advocates say the Saints have at least created the appearance of impropriety.

"It's inappropriate for a football team to involve itself in a sex abuse scandal," said Kevin Bourgeois, who is both a local volunteer leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and a Saints season-ticket holder.

"Their response was that they told the archbishop to be straightforward and open," said Bourgeois, who wore a black Saints jersey at a news conference this week outside the team's suburban practice facility. "And we believe that's completely not true."

The AP, which first reported on the Saints email controversy last week, filed a motion with the court this month supporting the release of the documents as a matter of public interest.

Both the Saints and the archdiocese have opposed the AP's involvement, and a court hearing was set Friday on whether the news organization may be heard. After that issue is settled, a special master will schedule another hearing on whether the Saints emails given to plaintiffs' attorneys through discovery may be released to the public.

The litigation has brought fresh attention to the process by which the New Orleans archdiocese came to produce the 57 names of clergy that it deemed "credibly accused" of sexually abusing minors -- the first roster of its kind to be released in Louisiana.

The list was published in November 2018 as the archdiocese was reeling from a scandal in which a longtime deacon and schoolteacher, George F. Brignac, continued serving as a lay minister in the church decades after he was accused of sexually abusing children. An Orleans Parish grand jury indicted Brignac last year on claims he raped an altar boy beginning in the late 1970s.

An AP investigation identified 20 clergy members who had been accused in lawsuits or charged by law enforcement with child sexual abuse who are missing from the New Orleans archdiocese list -- including two who were charged and convicted of crimes.

The AP analysis included a review of bankruptcy documents, lawsuits, settlement information, grand jury reports, media accounts and a database of accused priests tracked by the group BishopAccountability.org.

Meanwhile, a new lawsuit accuses local church leaders of refusing to disclose the names of 17 people accused of abusing children at a church-run home called Madonna Manor in suburban Jefferson Parish. The names were omitted from the list even though the archdiocese has paid millions of dollars to settle claims of sexual abuse at the home, the lawsuit says.

When the credibly accused list was released in late 2018, Archbishop Gregory Aymond expressed confidence in its accuracy and said it implicated 2% of local clergy following a review of 2,432 files dating to 1950.

That percentage would be significantly lower than the representation of abusive priests seen in jurisdictions around the country, said Terry McKiernan, founder of BishopAccountability.org, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit group that tracks clergy sexual abuse cases.

The church's own numbers, published by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, put the national average around 6%, while some advocacy groups contend it's as high as 10%.

McKiernan said it would be "objectionable" for Bensel to hold the dual role of directing damage control and weighing in on the contents of the credibly accused list.

"One would hope that the church is not viewing this as a PR matter anymore but a matter for truth and justice," McKiernan said. "If you have someone helping you spin not only the problem but the supposedly accurate list that describes the problem, you have a lot of work to do."
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 30, 2020 6:42 pm    Post subject:

The context behind this eludes me. Let's assume that someone from the Saints was involved in these discussions. Who cares? The list is accurate or it isn't. If it isn't accurate, who cares whether someone from the Saints was involved in creating it? Where is this supposed to go?
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 30, 2020 6:47 pm    Post subject:

Aeneas Hunter wrote:
The context behind this eludes me. Let's assume that someone from the Saints was involved in these discussions. Who cares? The list is accurate or it isn't. If it isn't accurate, who cares whether someone from the Saints was involved in creating it? Where is this supposed to go?



Apparently the Saints don't want the emails public but the attorneys for the alleged victims do.
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 30, 2020 7:33 pm    Post subject:

Basketball Fan wrote:
Aeneas Hunter wrote:
The context behind this eludes me. Let's assume that someone from the Saints was involved in these discussions. Who cares? The list is accurate or it isn't. If it isn't accurate, who cares whether someone from the Saints was involved in creating it? Where is this supposed to go?



Apparently the Saints don't want the emails public but the attorneys for the alleged victims do.


Right, but the question is why they want the emails public. I believe that I read that some news organizations are trying to get them. I can understand that. But what is the legitimate interest of the victims? Is this just some sort of publicity game? If the emails are legitimately relevant to the case, they will come into evidence at trial and become part of the public record. But why is this an issue now? From my perspective as an attorney, I'm struggling to see a legitimate purpose for this within the rules of procedure and the rules of ethics.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 31, 2020 5:35 pm    Post subject:

https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2020/01/31/judge-allows-ap-to-officially-join-effort-to-reveal-saints-emails/

Quote:
Judge finds Saints emails to Catholic church are of “public concern”

The New Orleans Saints stumbled into a dispute regarding the Catholic church’s abuse scandal, thanks to emails sent by the organization regarding the situation. On Friday, the emails moved a step closer to being publicly revealed.

According to the Associated Press, a judge ruled Friday that the emails are of “public concern,” and that a special master will determine whether to grant a request from the Associated Press to release them. Judge Ellen Hazeur rejected claims by the Saints and the Archdiocese of New Orleans that the communications were private.


The hearing before the special master has been scheduled for February 20.

The Saints have argued that they had a “minimal” role in providing P.R. assistance to the Archdiocese. Lawyers representing the individuals suing the Archdiocese for sexual abuse claimed in court documents that the Saints “appear to have had a hand in determining which names should or should not have been included on the pedophile list” generated by the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese on Thursday denied that contention.

There’s a simple way to remove all doubt as to the team’s role, whatever it may have been: Release the emails for public scrutiny and analysis.
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PostPosted: Fri Jan 31, 2020 11:00 pm    Post subject:

Aeneas Hunter wrote:
Basketball Fan wrote:
Aeneas Hunter wrote:
The context behind this eludes me. Let's assume that someone from the Saints was involved in these discussions. Who cares? The list is accurate or it isn't. If it isn't accurate, who cares whether someone from the Saints was involved in creating it? Where is this supposed to go?



Apparently the Saints don't want the emails public but the attorneys for the alleged victims do.


Right, but the question is why they want the emails public. I believe that I read that some news organizations are trying to get them. I can understand that. But what is the legitimate interest of the victims? Is this just some sort of publicity game? If the emails are legitimately relevant to the case, they will come into evidence at trial and become part of the public record. But why is this an issue now? From my perspective as an attorney, I'm struggling to see a legitimate purpose for this within the rules of procedure and the rules of ethics.


They are trying to build a case against the Archdiocese of New Orleans. The Saints have said they won’t fight the release of the emails, they just want it released during the trial.
My opinion. They are using the Saints public profile to pressure the release sooner.
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 01, 2020 6:30 am    Post subject:

Mattie B wrote:
Aeneas Hunter wrote:
Basketball Fan wrote:
Aeneas Hunter wrote:
The context behind this eludes me. Let's assume that someone from the Saints was involved in these discussions. Who cares? The list is accurate or it isn't. If it isn't accurate, who cares whether someone from the Saints was involved in creating it? Where is this supposed to go?



Apparently the Saints don't want the emails public but the attorneys for the alleged victims do.


Right, but the question is why they want the emails public. I believe that I read that some news organizations are trying to get them. I can understand that. But what is the legitimate interest of the victims? Is this just some sort of publicity game? If the emails are legitimately relevant to the case, they will come into evidence at trial and become part of the public record. But why is this an issue now? From my perspective as an attorney, I'm struggling to see a legitimate purpose for this within the rules of procedure and the rules of ethics.


They are trying to build a case against the Archdiocese of New Orleans. The Saints have said they won’t fight the release of the emails, they just want it released during the trial.
My opinion. They are using the Saints public profile to pressure the release sooner.


The plaintiffs already have the e-mails, but there appears to be a confidentiality order in place. This is why the Associated Press is trying to get them. I understand the interest of the AP. I don't understand the legitimate interest of the plaintiffs in making them public.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 10, 2020 4:55 pm    Post subject:

http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2020/02/10/gayle-benson-addresses-nature-of-emails-her-relationship-with-archdiocese/

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Gayle Benson addresses nature of emails, her relationship with Archdiocese

Saints owner Gayle Benson released a detailed statement Monday on the nature of her relationship with the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

A judge recently ruled that the emails sent by the organization regarding the Catholic church’s abuse scandal are of “public concern.” A special master will determine whether to grant a request from The Associated Press to release them. Judge Ellen Hazeur rejected claims by the Saints and the Archdiocese that the communications were private.

Benson addressed the nature of the emails and her relationship with the Archdiocese in the statement, deciding “to no longer stand idly by while stories are written about our role in this matter.”

“This past weekend, our organization received an interview request from The Associated Press. The email stated that an article was coming out Tuesday. It stated that we could expect questions that ‘would include things about the nature of Gayle’s relationship with Aymond and why, no matter how good a friend he is, would she feel compelled to have her pro sports organizations affiliated in any way with the clergy-molestation scandal? And maybe how she views the decision to do so in hindsight?’

“I have decided to take this opportunity based on the request from The Associated Press to send out this statement in order to bring clarity to questions about my relationship with the Archdiocese. While I appreciate the opportunity and thank The Associated Press for kindly reaching out to me to appear in this article, we have had subpoenas served to get emails, and calls made for me to pay into a victim’s fund. I have decided to no longer stand idly by while stories are written about our role in this matter and speak to this in my own words. This is a profoundly sad time for the Church, but more so for the victims that live with the daily pain that was inflicted upon them.

“Greg Bensel, our senior vice president of communications, was asked if he would help the Archdiocese prepare for the media relative to the release of clergy names involved in the abuse scandal. In the weeks leading up to the Nov. 2, 2018, release of clergy names, Greg met with the Archbishop and communications staff.

“Greg informed me that his recommendations were consistent with the Archdiocese and included: be honest, complete and transparent; own the past wrongs and find a solution to correct them and then define those solutions that are in place now to protect victims; be a leader in the Church by being the first Archdiocese in the country to release the full list of names, release all of the names of clergy that have credible evidence against them, regardless of whether they are male/female, dead or alive; and make sure that all law enforcement are given these names prior to the Archdiocese releasing them so they can be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

“Finally, Greg recommended that, with the goal of transparency, the Archbishop would meet with each media member in person, answering any question. No one associated with our organizations made recommendations or had input on the individual names of those disclosed on the list, rather our suggestion was to be completely transparent.

“We are proud of the role we played and yes, in hindsight, we would help again to assist the Archdiocese in its ability to publish the list with the hope of taking this step to heal the community. In addition, we already turned over every email to the court and plaintiff attorneys.

“Which brings me to my connection to the Church, the Archbishop and making this statement. I remain repulsed by the actions of past clergy in this abuse scandal. I pray for the healing of the victims and I am hopeful this terrible time will provide a path to eradicate this behavior in the Church. That is why we wanted to help. It is time for healing, which was the purpose of our involvement.

“My late husband Tom Benson and I have been devout Catholics all of our lives. We met in the Cathedral. I read at the lectern this weekend reflecting on this very issue offering my prayers for healing. We have supported the Catholic Church and this Archdiocese both financially and spiritually for decades, proudly. Neither Tom Benson nor myself, or any of our organizations have ever contributed nor will ever make payments to the Catholic Church to pay settlements or legal awards of any kind, let alone this issue. To suggest that I would offer money to the Catholic Church to pay for anything related to the clergy-molestation issue sickens me.

“Our relationship with past Archbishops and the Archdiocese dates back 50-plus years. Our faith is the core foundation from which we live our daily lives. Unifying, helping, and giving back is not something we do when asked; we do it every day. It defined how Tom Benson ran his organizations and how I ardently continue his legacy.

“Sadly, there are many in need in our community, and we work very hard to make sure that we help where we can. We get calls and requests seeking help, advice, and money from every sector of our community, no matter the issue, no matter how controversial or mundane, every day. More often than not, we try to help or assist in finding a solution. Are we perfect? Of course not, but we sincerely listen, we sincerely care, and we sincerely love. It is who we are. Tom Benson instilled that in our organization. I will always continue his legacy.

“In closing, I want to be clear in this statement, that I am not going to be deterred in helping people in need, whether a friend seeking advice or a stranger in need, it does not matter, our list is long. We will always find the best way to unify and heal. That is who we are.

“I hope that is not lost on the same people that write such articles when they too come asking for help or support. We do not judge those that need help.

“We remain steadfast in our prayers for those affected. We pray for our community and we pray for healing.”
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 10, 2020 2:45 pm    Post subject:

https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2020/04/09/special-master-recommends-saints-emails-remain-shielded-in-clergy-case/

Quote:
Special master recommends Saints emails remain shielded in clergy case

Email communications between the New Orleans Saints and the Archdiocese of New Orleans should remain shielded from the public per a recommendation from special master Carolyn Gill-Jefferson in relation to a clergy sex abuse scandal.

According to Amie Just and Ramon Antonio-Vargas of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Judge Ellen Hazeur will have the ultimate say in whether the emails remain sealed or released. However, Gill-Jefferson, a retired judge, stated in her recommendation that the release of the emails would unduly “embarrass or bring public scrutiny to the Saints organization for supporting the Archdiocese.”

Attorneys representing a plaintiff that is suing the church over alleged sexual abuse from former deacon George Brignac and media organizations have sought the release of email communications between the team and church over the public relations strategy for the church in the wake of the scandal.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers have said there are 276 emails showing members of the Saints organization were advising the church on how to handle their public messaging of the scandal. The team, including owner Gayle Benson, have vehemently denied any wrongdoing saying their advice to the church was to be as open and transparent as possible. However, it’s a stance the plaintiffs’ attorneys reject saying the emails in question show otherwise.
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PostPosted: Fri Apr 10, 2020 6:46 pm    Post subject:

That sounds reasonable, but I’m still at a loss to understand what legitimate interest the plaintiffs are asserting. The media organizations have an understandable interest.
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