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Lawyers will seek New Orleans Saints testimony on team's PR help to Catholic archdiocese about clergy sex abuse

New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson stands on the field during a NFL game at the Mercedes Benz Superdome on December 08, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana.Sean Gardner | Getty Images

Lawyers say they want the New Orleans Saints and its spokesman to testify about that football team's public relations assistance to the Archdiocese of New Orleans regarding clergy sexual abuse cases, court documents reveal.

The lawyers represent a man who is suing the Archdiocese on claims he was sexually abused as a boy by a Catholic lay minister.

The Saints said in a statement Friday that the team provided the PR help to the Catholic archdiocese after being asked for assistance by church officials.

And the team said it had urged the archdiocese to be "open and fully transparent" in dealing with allegations of sex abuse by priests and others.

The statement came hours after a bombshell report by the Associated Press that revealed the teams' unusual assistance to the church.

The Associated Press is asking a judge in the pending civil lawsuit to approve the disclosure of email and other communications involving the Saints, whose owner Gayle Benson is a devout Catholic, and the archdiocese. Benson also owns the New Orleans Pelicans, an NBA basketball team.

The Saints are trying to keep those emails out of the public eye — at least for now — according to court records. The archdiocese also wants the communications kept confidential.

Lawyers for the accuser said in a New Orleans court filing earlier this week reviewed by CNBC that it appears that the Saints' executives and public relations teams was "unofficially 'lent out' ... to assist the Archdiocese in 'messaging' and mitigating any fallout from releasing the names of credibly accused priests in in November 2018."

"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 filing said.

"The Saints realize that if the documents at issue are made public, this professional sports organization also will be smearing itself."

The filing notes that Saints personnel apparently used communications that carried the insignia of the NFL when they conducted outreach to reporters regarding the archdiocese.

Lawyers for the accuser, who filed his lawsuit using an alias, have sought to release what they said are "276 documents" that have been "designated as 'confidential' by the Saints."

The accuser's lawyers, in a footnote to their filing this week, also said they intend "to take a corporate representative deposition of the Saints, as well as a fact deposition of [redacted name] and [Saints spokesman Greg] Bensel, to fully determine the nature of the relationship and the extent of its assistance."

The NFL did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNBC.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans declined to comment.

The Saints, in a prepared statement, said, "The New Orleans Saints organization has always had a very strong relationship with the Archdiocese."

"The Archdiocese reached out to a number of community and civic minded leaders seeking counsel on handling the pending media attention that would come with the release of the clergy names in November of 2018," the team said.

"Greg Bensel, Senior Vice President of Communications for the New Orleans Saints, was contacted and offered input on how to work with the media."

The statement went on to say:

"The advice was simple and never wavering. Be direct, open and fully transparent, while making sure that all law enforcement agencies were alerted. The New Orleans Saints, Greg Bensel and Mrs. Gayle Benson were and remain offended, disappointed and repulsed by the actions of certain past clergy. We remain steadfast in support of the victims who have suffered and pray for their continued healing."

"Further, the Saints have no interest in concealing information from the press or public. At the current discovery stage in the case of Doe v. Archdiocese, the Saints, through their counsel, have merely requested the court to apply the normal rules of civil discovery to the documents that the Saints produced and delivered to Mr. Doe's counsel. Until the documents are admitted into evidence at a public trial or hearing in the context of relevant testimony by persons having knowledge of the documents and the events to which they pertain, the use of the documents should be limited to the parties to the case and their attorneys. If admitted into evidence of the case, the documents and the testimony pertaining to them will become part of the public record of the trial of the case."

CNBC

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