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Saints owner says team only advised Catholic church to be 'transparent' about sexual abuse

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New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson broke her silence Monday on allegations that team PR officials aided the local Roman Catholic archdiocese in preparing and releasing a list of clergy members credibly accused of sexual abuse.

Benson released a lengthy statement on the team’s website detailing her version of events and thoughts on the matter. The statement was in response to an interview request from the Associated Press before the release of an article on Tuesday.

In the statement, Benson claimed a team official only advised the archdiocese to be “honest, complete and transparent,” and had no involvement in selecting the names on the list.

A group of more than 20 men who have filed a lawsuit against the church has claimed the team assisted the archdiocese in both shaping the list and “softening” the impact of the list’s release, with staff using their official NFL.com emails. The team is currently fighting in court to keep its correspondence with the church from seeing the light of day.

Benson’s account, from the Saints:

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.

That account is in line with the Saints’ initial denials, which claimed Bensel’s simple advice was, “Be direct, open and fully transparent, while making sure that all law enforcement agencies were alerted.”

Despite their claim of only telling the church to be transparent, the Saints are opposing a motion from the AP to release the emails to the public.

In this Sept. 16, 2018, photo, New Orleans Saints owner Gayle Benson waves before an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns in New Orleans. New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Benson has paid off nearly $100,000 worth of layaway orders at a New Orleans Walmart. News outlets reported Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, that Benson has paid off more than 400 orders at the Tchoupitoulas Street store. NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune reports a Saints spokesman says Benson made the gift on her own.(AP Photo/Bill Feig)
The Saints are currently fighting to keep their correspondence with the Catholic church private. (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

The matter is an obviously personal one for Benson, a devout Catholic that has donated millions of dollars to the church and its causes. She said in her statement she would help the archdiocese again if given the opportunity, and voiced her dismay at the allegations against the church:

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.

In response, attorneys representing the plaintiffs contended that Benson has clearly not read the emails in question.

From the AP:

Plaintiffs attorneys John Denenea and Richard Trahant said in a statement Monday that “it is obvious that Gayle Marie Benson has not read the e-mails the Saints are hiding from the public, or even re-read her own e-mails. If she had read them, she could never have made some of the false claims asserted in her statement today.”

A hearing is reportedly scheduled in New Orleans next week to determine whether the emails may be released.

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