New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson maintains an extremely close relationship to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and the city’s Archbishop Gregory Aymond. According to a story published by the Associated Press, the two are so entangled that Saints higher-ups have engaged in doing public relations work for the church, as it deals with a large-scale sexual assault scandal.
The Saints and the Archdiocese of New Orleans have both gone to court to block the release of emails which allegedly show team executives giving advice on “damage control” for the church, as roughly two dozen men are suing over past abuse.
Attorneys for the men say the Saints and Gayle Benson have “aided the Archdiocese of New Orleans in its ‘pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.'” These allegations, and the team’s fight to conceal a reported 276 documents that show these efforts, are an awful look for Benson and the franchise.
From the AP:
“Attorneys for about two dozen men suing the church say in court filings that the 276 documents they obtained through discovery show that the NFL team, whose owner is devoutly Catholic, aided the Archdiocese of New Orleans in its ‘pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.’
“’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.’
“Attorneys for the men suing the church say ‘multiple’ Saints personnel, including Senior Vice President of Communications Greg Bensel, used their team email to advise church officials on ‘messaging’ and how to soften the impact of the archdiocese’s release of a list of clergy members ‘credibly accused’ of sexual abuse.
“’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,’ the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote. ‘And the Saints joined in.’”
The New Orleans Saints have called the allegations that they have aided in covering up the church’s issues “outrageous,” but acknowledge that they do not want the emails release to become “fodder for the public.”
Gayle Benson is a major supporter of Aymond, a regular guest of hers at the teams’ games, and the Archdiocese of New Orleans as a whole, donating millions to the church and other Catholic groups in the area.
At the center of the allegations against the archdiocese is former schoolteacher and deacon George F. Brignac, who was indicted on rape charges of a former altar boy, who has accused him of years of abuse from ages 7 to 11, dating back to the 1970s. Others have accused Brignac of abuse as well.
Brignac was removed from the ministry after a fondling allegation by a 7-year old in 1988, but maintained roles with the church and other affiliated organizations like the Knights of Columbus, as well as access to children, until 2018 when reports about his conduct began to emerge. That year, he was included on a released list of “credibly accused clergy” by the archdiocese, a list that included over 50 different names.