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Judge: AP can ask courts to release Saints emails about clergy sexual abuse list

The Friday ruling is a win for the AP looking to review the emails and for attorneys for the victims who say they show the team helping cover up crimes.

NEW ORLEANS —

An Orleans Parish Civil Court judge will let the Associated Press move forward with its request to try to gain access to records involving the Saints and Archdiocese of New Orleans when it released a list of clergy members who were credibly accused of sexual abuse.

According to reporting from the Associated Press, Saints emails show the team actively helping to shape a list of credibly accused clergy that appears to be an undercount. 

New court papers filed this week by lawyers for about two dozen men making sexual abuse claims against the Archdiocese of New Orleans gave the most detailed description yet of the emails that have rocked the NFL team and remain shielded from the public.

"This goes beyond public relations," the attorneys wrote, accusing the Saints of issuing misleading statements saying their work for the archdiocese involved only "messaging" and handling media inquiries as part of the 2018 release of the clergy names.

Instead, they wrote, "The Saints appear to have had a hand in determining which names should or should not have been included on the pedophile list."

"In order to fulfill this role ... the Saints must have known the specific allegations of sexual abuse against a priest ... and 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."

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. 

Even as the team's attorneys went to court to keep the 276 documents from being released to the public, they said in a court filing this week, "Neither the Saints nor any of their personnel have anything to hide." The team says it does not object to the emails becoming public later if they are admitted into evidence in the case.

In a lengthy statement Wednesday, the Saints said its spokesman Bensel advised the archdiocese to be "direct, open and fully transparent," when it released its list to the media and to make sure all law enforcement agencies were alerted.

"Never did the Saints organizations offer advice to conceal information," the team's statement said. "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."

In response to the AP's Thursday reporting on the collaboration between the two organizations, the Archdiocese of New Orleans downplayed the role played by the Saints organization.

"As any business facing a major communications issue, the Archdiocese of New Orleans sought trusted council in working with the media to release the Report on Clergy Abuse in 2018," the religious organization said in a statement. "The role of the New Orleans Saints was limited to guidance in releasing this information to media, not to advise on the content of the report."

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