Lawyers representing approximately two dozen victims of clergy sexual abuse have accused the New Orleans Saints of helping the local archdiocese of excluding names from a public list of priests accused of abusing minors, according to the Associated Press.
The wire service also performed an analysis of the publicly disclosed list of accused priests and determined that the Catholic Church may have “underestimated the actual number of publicly accused clergy members in the region by at least 20.”
While the team’s organization has claimed any collaborations with the Church were simply “minimal” and within the realm of public relations, lawyers who have reviewed the football organization’s internal emails have insisted that the professional relationship went “beyond public relations,” reports the news agency.
In a court filing, lawyers wrote that the emails support the claim that the team “had a hand in determining which names should or should not have been included on the pedophile list,” and that they “must have known the specific allegations of sexual abuse against a priest.”
The organization “made a judgment call about whether those allegations by a particular victim against a named priest were, in its opinion, legitimate enough to warrant being included on the pedophile list,” write the lawyers, reports the news agency.
Last week, the AP also reported on the close relationship between the New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond and the Saints’ owner Gayle Benson, who has claimed that the cover-up allegations against the team are “outrageous.”
In a statement released Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Saints told the news agency that the organization never advised the archdiocese to hold information. “In fact, we advised that as new information relative to credible evidence about other clergy came to light, then those names should be released and given to the proper authorities.”
The NFL will not investigate the team over the allegations unless “Saints emails show troublesome actions,” according to the Athletic, which spoke to a “league source.”
The Catholic Church has experienced an unprecedented reckoning surrounding abuse allegations in the wake of a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report that revealed over 300 priests had been accused of sexual abuse. The accusations date back generations, and many accused priests have long since died.
According to ProPublica, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has failed to issue instructions regarding disclosure practices, “leaving individual dioceses and religious orders to decide for themselves how much or how little to publish.”
To help fix the absence of a master list of accused priests, ProPublica has developed an interactive public database where users can search for the names of accused Church officials, without knowing the individual locations where the accused person may have worked.
For example, users could determine whether an accused priest, who is not present on a list from a specific diocese, may have been named on a list released by a different dioceses. The database also provides timelines for when priests were active, and in which locations they worked.
While the database includes the names of 6,754 priests, both deceased and living, the news organization notes that 41 out of 219 dioceses in the United States have not released lists of accused officials.