Federal Judge says he arranged meeting with Archbishop and Saints communications executive

Updated: Feb. 17, 2020 at 9:54 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - A Federal judge tells Fox 8 he arranged a meeting with Archbishop Gregory Aymond and Saints communications executive Greg Bensel prior to the 2018 release of the Archdiocese’s list of clergy credibly accused of child sex abuse. But, U.S. District Court Judge Jay Zainey says his only involvement in the matter was to see if Bensel could help facilitate meetings with the news media.

Zainey tells Fox 8, when he helped arrange the meeting between his friends Aymond and Bensel, he did so because he thought Bensel could help facilitate meetings with the news media to let the public know what safeguards were in place to prevent clergy sex abuse. While Zainey couldn’t recall exactly when that meeting took place, it was prior to the 2018 release of the Archdiocese’s list of pedophile priests.

Zainey, who is Catholic and also on the Board of Trustees for Notre Dame Seminary, says Archbishop Aymond inherited the problem. And, while the Archbishop “could not change the sins of the past,” he could prevent it from happening in the future. The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, released a statement about Zainey’s involvement saying, “We would think that someone sitting on a federal district court should realize that both the abuse and its cover up are not sins, but crimes.” We asked Zainey about that statement, but he had no response to it.

This week, Fox 8 and other local media will have access to a hearing over Saints emails and whether they should remain confidential. In court filings, attorneys for alleged child sex abuse victims claim the team pulled community leaders into the handling of the church sex abuse fallout. A source close to the Saints and the Archdiocese have told us those allegations are not true.

In their latest statement, SNAP says "part of the reason for the public interest in the emails is to reveal whether or not these criminal acts are truly all in the past."

We spoke with New Orleans SNAP representative Kevin Bourgeois. He’s in Italy with other clergy abuse survivors for the first anniversary of the Vatican abuse summit. While in Rome, SNAP will demand more action and change regarding the church sex abuse scandal saying the church is not being open and transparent with the public as they promised they would.

“What I am doing from a local standpoint is underlining what’s happening in New Orleans with our current Archbishop and now with the everyday changing drama of what’s going on in New Orleans, I’m going to bring to the Pope what is happening in New Orleans,” Bourgeois said.

Zainey says when he met with Aymond and Bensel he did so as Jay Zainey not Judge Zainey. He adds if a federal case involving church sex abuse comes before him, he will recuse himself to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

We reached out to Bensel but he said per the orders of the Judge in the matter, the Saints have no comment. The Archdiocese also had no comment. In a statement, the plaintiff’s attorneys said, “consistent with our ethical obligations and the stern direction from Judge Hazeur in court, we can offer no comment on Judge Zainey’s involvement in this matter.”

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