Media outlets file motion for access to Saints and archdiocese communications, Gayle Benson responds

Media outlets file motion for access to Saints and archdiocese communications, Gayle Benson responds
The New Orleans Saints deny trying to conceal emails about how a team executive helped the Archdiocese of New Orleans deal with alleged church sex abuse cases. (Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - FOX 8, along with The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate and two of the city’s other television stations have filed a motion asking that they be allowed access to a court hearing on the question of whether emails and other communications between the Archdiocese of New Orleans and executives of the New Orleans Saints should remain confidential.

The motion was filed Monday on behalf of the newspaper, FOX 8, WWL-TV and WDSU-TV.

A hearing has been on Thursday at 9 a.m. in Civil District Court.

Saints owner Gayle Benson responded Monday evening. She said the Saints organization received an interview request from The Associated Press about an article coming out Tuesday. She would be asked questions that “would include things about the nature of Gayle’s relationship with Aymond and why, no matter how good a friend he is, would she feel compelled to have her pro sports organizations affiliated in any way with the clergy-molestation scandal? And maybe how she views the decision to do so in hindsight?”

She said the director of communication for the Saints, Greg Bensel, told the church to be honest, transparent and release names of the clergy involved in the church sex scandal.

“We are proud of the role we played and yes, in hindsight, we would help again to assist the Archdiocese in its ability to publish the list with the hope of taking this step to heal the community. In addition, we already turned over every email to the court and plaintiff attorneys,” Benson said. “Which brings me to my connection to the Church, the Archbishop and making this statement. 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.”

She said her and Tom Benson have been “devout” Catholics for more than 50 years.

The hearing in question is set for Feb. 20 before former Civil District Judge Carolyn Gill-Jefferson, whom Hazeur named a “special master” in the case. The hearing arose from a lawsuit filed by an anonymous man who says he was molested by George Brignac, a former Catholic deacon, decades ago. Brignac’s conduct has been the subject of numerous lawsuits, and he faces a criminal charge of rape in Orleans Parish.

During the discovery process in the case, lawyers for the plaintiffs unearthed 276 emails that show that members of the Saints organization were advising church officials on how to manage the fallout from sex-abuse scandal, which reignited locally after the Brignac revelations.

The Saints and the archdiocese have said the emails are confidential and should remain so. Lawyers for the Associated Press, which has intervened in the case, have argued the emails are of great public interest and that the public has a right to see them.

The motion filed by lawyer Scott Sternberg on behalf of the other news organizations Monday does not take a position on whether the emails – which the organizations have not seen – ought to be public. Rather, Sternberg argues that the hearing at which that question is decided should be public.

Closing the hearing, Sternberg argues, “violates the First Amendment right of access, the Louisiana Constitution and Louisiana law.”

The motion argues that if certain emails deemed potentially sensitive or confidential must be discussed at the hearing, the judge has the option of closing parts of the hearing, saying that “wholesale closure … is certainly not the most narrowly tailored restriction” Gill-Jefferson could have imposed. The motion asks Hazeur to order the Feb. 20 hearing opened.

“As we previously stated, 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,” said the plaintiff’s attorneys.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, also responded to Benson’s statement.

“I think the garden variety person who has kept a secret like I did for 35 years, why would I want to go up against two powerful institutions, you feel like you have the cards stacked against you, but know, that you don’t. There are actually organizations here to support you and have attorneys that are not going to just settle. They’re actually going to fight to get discovery like this group of attorneys did,” said Kevin Bourgeois with SNAP New Orleans.

Copyright 2020 WVUE. All rights reserved.