New Orleans, La., Jan 24, 2020 / 06:29 pm (CNA).- The New Orleans Saints have said assistance that team personnel offered to the Archdiocese of New Orleans on communications strategy was not a coverup, but disclosure.
The team’s claim comes amid a sexual abuse lawsuit filed against the archdiocese. Saints officials said that team personnel offered assistance to archdiocesan officials on how to manage a 2018 report on clerics removed from ministry for alleged sexual abuse, but that the Saints personnel did not act improperly, according to the AP.
At the center of the suit is George Brignac, a deacon of the Archdiocese of New Orleans who was removed from ministry in 1988 after being accused of sexually abusing minors in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Brignac was listed among a November 2018 report of New Orleans archdiocesan clergy who were removed from ministry for an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor.
In July 2019, The New Orleans Advocate reported that attorneys of an alleged victim of Brignac were working to obtain copies of any communications between employees of the New Orleans archdiocese and those of the New Orleans Saints. The alleged victim’s lawsuit, which WVUE identified as John Doe versus the Catholic Church of New Orleans and Deacon George Brignac, says the archdiocese failed to protect him from Brignac.
The attorneys said they had evidence that the Saints’ Senior VP of Communications, Greg Bensel, advised the archdiocese on its 2018 clergy abuse report, and that they wanted to understand how the Saints may have been “supporting the archdiocese on addressing sexual abuse claims and the media coverage surrounding these claims.”
The AP reported Jan. 24 that lawyers “for about two dozen men suing the church” said documents obtained through discovery demonstrated that the Saints assisted the archdiocese in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes so that the public does not discover its criminal behavior.” They said Bensel and other Saints employees had advised Church officials on “messaging” related to the clerical abuse of minors.
The plaintiffs are seeking to have the communications made public, which both the Saints and the archdiocese are opposing.
A special master appointed by the court “is expected to hear arguments in the coming weeks on whether the communications should remain confidential,” Jim Mustian of the AP wrote. The AP has filed a motion supporting their publication.
Lawyers for the Saints “acknowledged in a court filing that the team assisted the archdiocese in its publishing of the credibly accused clergy list, but said that was an act of disclosure,” the AP reported.
The football team’s lawyers called the assistance “the opposite of concealment” and called claims it had abetted the coverup of crimes “outrageous.”
According to the AP, an archdiocesan attorney had said the request to have the communications released was part of a “proverbial witch hunt with respect to decades-old abuse” and that it was merely an effort to let the media “unfairly try to tar and feather the archdiocese.”
Brignac, 85, was ordained in 1976, and an allegation against him was received the following year. He held pastoral assignments at Cabrini High School, Our Lady of the Rosary, and St. Frances Cabrini School in New Orleans; St. Louise de Marillac School in Arabi; and St. Matthew the Apostle School in River Ridge.
He was charged with indecent behavior with a juvenile in 1977, and was acquitted the next year.
In 1980, Brignac was booked with indecent behavior with a juvenile and contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile, but the allegations were not prosecuted, the New Orleans Advocate reported.
In 1988, charges of abuse of a juvenile were filed, but dismissed by the state.
The New Orleans archdiocese has settled several lawsuits involving Brignac.
One of those settlements, made in May 2018, was for more than $500,000. The victim said he was abused as an altar boy at Holy Rosary School in New Orleans beginning in 1979. Roger Stetter, the plaintiff’s attorney, told the New Orleans Advocate shortly after that “it was a fair settlement, and it was very, very prompt.” He added, “I think the archdiocese is doing a lot to try to curtail this type of abuse. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to weed out possible pedophiles.”
Stetter also said Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans is “a good man and wants to do right by the victims, even though it may cost the church a lot of money.”
For several years, until shortly after the May 2018 settlement, Brignac served as a lector at St. Mary Magdalene parish in Metairie, adjacent to New Orleans. The New Orleans archdiocese said its leaders were unaware he was lectoring until after the settlement was publicized, and that the priest who allowed it “was wrong to do so.”
In September 2019 Brignac was arrested on a count of first-degree rape, after a former altar boy said he had been repeatedly raped by the deacon 40 years ago.