Bankruptcy filing stalls case involving New Orleans Saints, archdiocese

St Louis Cathedral in New Orleans Credit travelview Shutterstock St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. | travelview/Shutterstock.

The New Orleans archdiocese' recent declaration of bankruptcy will freeze a court case alleging executives for the New Orleans Saints football team helped the archdiocese, through public relations efforts, "conceal" the crimes of abusive clergy.

The Archdiocese of New Orleans declared bankruptcy May 1, a move which Archbishop Gregory Aymond said will allow funds to be given directly to sex abuse victims rather than being tied up in prolonged litigation efforts.

The Chapter 11 bankruptcy declaration also freezes the numerous sexual abuse lawsuits the archdiocese currently is facing, including the suit involving New Orleans Saints executives. There is no concrete timeline for the reorganization to take place.

At the center of the suit in question 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.

The New Orleans archdiocese has already settled several lawsuits involving Brignac, and in September 2019 Brignac was arrested on a count of first-degree rape.

Attorneys representing an alleged victim of the abusive deacon say the archdiocese failed to protect the minor from Brignac. 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.

As part of the case, the attorneys accused Greg Bensel, the Saints' Senior VP of Communications, and other employees, of assisting the archdiocese in its "pattern and practice of concealing its crimes so that the public does not discover its criminal behavior" by means of advising Church officials on "messaging" related to the clerical abuse of minors.

The plaintiff's attorneys say that Bensel helped the archdiocese craft its list of accused clergy.

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."

The plaintiffs in the case are seeking to have the communications between the Saints and archdiocese made public, a move both parties oppose. The AP has filed a motion in support of the communications' release.

Judge Carolyn Jefferson, a retired judge of the Civil District Court for Orleans, during February 2020 presided over a hearing on whether email correspondence between the two parties should be made public.

A separate lawsuit against the archdiocese, also frozen, alleges that Aymond and his three predecessors systematically concealed the crimes of Father Lawrence Hecker, an 88-year-old priest removed from active ministry in 2002 after accusations that he abused "countless children," the Associated Press reports.

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