Gayle Benson: Saints did nothing wrong in helping Archdiocese of New Orleans

METAIRIE, La. -- New Orleans Saints and Pelicans owner Gayle Benson released a lengthy statement Monday evening to "bring clarity to questions about my relationship" with New Orleans' Roman Catholic Church Archdiocese amid the church's sexual abuse scandal.

Benson and team executives have been accused by attorneys of plaintiffs suing the church of helping to shape the Archdiocese's public relations response while releasing the names of clergy members who have been credibly accused of abuse. A hearing is scheduled for later this month to determine whether emails between Saints executives and the Archdiocese will be made public.

The Saints have insisted through previous statements they only offered input on how to work with the media and that senior vice president of communications Greg Bensel's advice was to be "direct, open and fully transparent."

However, Benson said she felt compelled to write her own statement after The Associated Press requested an interview with her for a story that will be published Tuesday.

"I have decided to no longer stand idly by while stories are written about our role in this matter and speak to this in my own words," said Benson, a devout Catholic who has a longstanding friendship with Archbishop Gregory Aymond. "This is a profoundly sad time for the Church, but more so for the victims that live with the daily pain that was inflicted upon them.

"We are proud of the role we played and yes, in hindsight, we would help again to assist the Archdiocese in its ability to publish the list with the hope of taking this step to heal the community. In addition, we already turned over every email to the court and plaintiff attorneys.

"Which brings me to my connection to the Church, the Archbishop and making this statement. I remain repulsed by the actions of past clergy in this abuse scandal. I pray for the healing of the victims and I am hopeful this terrible time will provide a path to eradicate this behavior in the Church. That is why we wanted to help. It is time for healing, which was the purpose of our involvement."

Benson went on to detail that she and her late husband, Tom Benson, "have supported the Catholic Church and this Archdiocese both financially and spiritually for decades, proudly." But she insisted that neither she, her husband or any of their organizations "have ever contributed nor will ever make payments to the Catholic Church to pay settlements or legal awards of any kind, let alone this issue. To suggest that I would offer money to the Catholic Church to pay for anything related to the clergy-molestation issue sickens me."

Attorneys representing a plaintiff known as John Doe replied with a statement: "As we previously stated, it is obvious that Gayle Marie Benson has not read the e-mails at issue, or re-read her own e-mails. If she had, she never would have made some of the false claims asserted in her statement today," the statement read.

As of Monday evening, the Saints had not been accused in court filings of offering money to help pay for settlements.

The NFL has not commented on the case or whether the Saints could face discipline for their involvement.