Church's emails with NFL's Saints to be subject of court hearing

Saints emails allegedly show team execs did damage control amid the Archdiocese of New Orleans' clergy abuse crisis

New Orleans news outlets were set to argue Thursday for an open hearing on the confidentiality of emails between Roman Catholic officials and the city's NFL franchise concerning clergy sex-abuse scandals.

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As The Associated Press reported last month, victims' lawyers allege that hundreds of Saints emails show team executives did behind-the-scenes public relations damage control amid the Archdiocese of New Orleans' clergy abuse crisis. The team has gone to court to keep the emails from being made public, saying court rules would ordinarily keep them under seal and that the plaintiffs' lawyers want them released “for publicity purposes.”

New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond talks with NOLA.com | The Times Picayune at the archdiocese office in New Orleans, La on March 27, 2019. (David Grunfeld/NOLA.com/The Advocate via AP)

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A state court hearing is scheduled in New Orleans next week before a court-appointed special master to determine whether they may be released.

The AP has been allowed to intervene in the effort to get the emails released and lawyers for the news cooperative are being allowed to participate in arguments for release of the emails. However, the Feb. 20 hearing before the special master was to be closed to the public.

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The owners of The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate, WVUE-TV, WWL-TV and WDSU-TV have filed a motion for access to the hearing.

Judge Ellen Hazeur was set to hear arguments at Civil District Court in New Orleans.

New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson sits on the sideline with his wife, Gayle Benson, before an NFL football game in New Orleans on Sept. 17, 2017 (AP Photo/Bill Feig)

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The Saints, whose devoutly Catholic owner Gayle Benson is close friends with the local archbishop, have disputed as “outrageous” any suggestion that the team helped cover up crimes. They have accused plaintiffs’ attorneys of mischaracterizing what is in the emails.

Benson said in a news release Monday that the NFL team played no role in determining which priests would be named in the list of “credibly accused” clergy published by the archdiocese.

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Attorneys for about two dozen men suing the church allege in court filings that the confidential emails show executives joined in the church’s “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.” The attorneys contend that included taking an active role in helping to shape the archdiocese’s list of 57 credibly accused clergy, a roster an AP analysis found was undercounted by at least 20 names.