Executives for the New Orleans Saints are going to court to protect hundreds of emails from the public, which purportedly show that they’ve been doing public relations damage control for the city’s Roman Catholic archdiocese to help control fallout from a growing sexual abuse scandal.
The Associated Press reports that lawyers for around two dozen men who are suing the church say that the 276 documents they acquired show that the NFL team, whose owner is a faithful Catholic, assisted 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.”
Court papers filed by Saints attorneys challenge the idea that the team helped the church cover up crimes, saying such claims are “outrageous.” They added that the emails—from 2018 and 2019—were supposed to be private and not “fodder for the public.” The archdiocese is also against the emails being released.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys have told the NFL about the matter because the Saints used the team’s NFL.com domain. However, the NFL hasn’t commented. NFL policy says those who are part of the league must avoid “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in” the NFL.
A court-appointed special master is set to hear arguments about whether the emails should remain private. The AP has also filed a court motion for the documents to be released, arguing that the crisis involves “well-known mega-institutions that collect millions of dollars from local residents to support their activities.”
Saints owner Gayle Benson maintains a close friendship with New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond. Benson has given millions of dollars to Catholics institutions in the city, and the archbishop attends games with her, as well as charitable events for the church.
Saints attorneys conceded in a court filing that the team helped the archdiocese in its publishing of a list of credibly accused clergy, which was a move for disclosure, “the opposite of concealment.”
The fight to publicize the emails is connected to a number of claims filed against the archdiocese’s employment of George F. Brignac, who has been accused of sexually abusing a number of young boys. In 1978, he was acquitted of three counts of indecent behavior with a juvenile.
But Brignac could now face life behind bars after he was indicted last month on a rape charge. A former altar boy told police that Brignac repeatedly raped him in the late 1970s, from ages 7 to 11. Brignac is included in the archdiocese’s list of “credibly accused” clergy.
A lawyer for the archdiocese has said that the plaintiffs want to release the emails so they can give them to the media and “unfairly try to tar and feather the archdiocese.”