In Louisiana, the state where I lived the first 25 years of my life, the New Orleans Saints are pretty much a religion unto themselves. When Tracy Porter made the interception returned for a touchdown that won the Super Bowl, I remember calling my mother, who was weeping. “This is the greatest day of my life,” she told me. But apart from the religion of football, the Saints are also a deeply religious team. Recently, Drew Brees advocated for “bring your Bible to school day,” and it’s no secret that Saints owner Gayle Benson is a devout Catholic, as is much of the state. All that is to say, it is not at all surprising to me that a lawsuit alleges the New Orleans Saints had a hand in keeping names of priests accused of sexual abuse off a list of abusers in the state.
According to the AP, the team insists that it had a “minimal” role in helping the church with PR and media appearances, but an investigation into the archdiocese’s list of 57 “credibly accused” clergy in Louisiana is about 20 short based on lawsuits and police records.
In 276 documents, which included emails between the team and the archdiocese, the Saints’ PR team advised the church on “messaging” in light of priest abuse scandals, and attorneys say they also “appear to have had a hand in determining which names should or should not have been included on the pedophile list.”
And in order to offer that advice, attorneys say it stands to reason that the team must have had knowledge of the accusations of sexual abuse priests faced:
“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 on the pedophile list.”
Gayle Benson, owner of both the Saints and the Pelicans and close personal friend of New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond, has given millions over the years to Catholic charities in Louisiana. Archbishop Aymond also frequently appears at games as her guest.
Though the team’s attorneys went to court this week to keep the documents from being made public, they also say the emails don’t prove anything: “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.”
Meanwhile, Louisiana’s list of accused priests indicates just two percent of priests have been accused of sexual abuse since 1950, putting the state much lower than the national average of six to ten percent. In 2019, a grand jury indicted George F. Brignac, a deacon and schoolteacher, of raping a child in the 1970s. Despite multiple allegations of abuse, Brignac was allowed to retain a ministerial position in the church for decades.