Hundreds of emails exchanged between the New Orleans Saints and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans show that members of the football team’s leadership actively participated in creating the church’s list of abusive priests, lawyers representing a group of victims say.
The bizarre allegation stems from the friendship between the Saints’ devoutly Catholic owner, Gayle Benson, and the New Orleans archbishop. The Associated Press first reported the team’s involvement in the sex abuse scandal last week, alleging that the team had helped the archdiocese with damage control around the release of its list of alleged abusers. At the time, the victims’ lawyers accused the team of helping the church with its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.”
But according to the AP, the emails show more than help with damage control. The lawyers claimed that one email mentioned that the Saints’ senior vice president of communications had met with an unnamed third party to discuss “removing priests from the pedophile list.” As the plaintiffs’ lawyers pointed out, if the Saints were involved with making the list, it would mean that people associated with the team weighed in on the credibility of certain accusations or accusers.
In 2018, the New Orleans archdiocese named 57 priests it believed were credibly accused of sexual abuse. Six more names have since been added, but according to the AP, the number would still leave the archdiocese’s rate of accused priests below the estimated average across the country.
The team, for its part, has denied any involvement in building the list, which, the AP reports, undercounts the number of abuser priests by at least 20. Instead, the team said, the archdiocese approached the team for public relations advice before the release of the names. The Saints maintain that the team only helped with the handling of media inquiries and advised the church to be open and transparent.
The Saints have said that the lawyers mischaracterized the emails. The team’s lawyers have also said that while they are fighting to stop the release of a trove of documents, they don’t have anything to hide. The team’s lawyers instead said that they sought to keep the full contents from the public simply because the emails were meant to be private.
The NFL is not planning to investigate the Saints, the Athletic reported Wednesday. But the league may step in if the emails reveal “troublesome actions” from the team.