The New Orleans Saints football team. The Toledo police department. We hear about this all the time. We at Horowitz Law never expected to write about either of these topics here, especially not together in the same blog. But both at least deserve scrutiny, if not harsh criticism. In civil litigation, the NFL’s Saints’ executives are accused of helping New Orleans Archdiocesan officials decide which accused child molesting clerics to public divulge. They’re also accused of doing other public relations work (a.k.a. ‘spin’) on the area’s Catholic sexual abuse crisis, allegedly joining ‘in the church’s “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.” The Saints’ devoutly Catholic owner, Gayle Benson, talks openly about her close friendship with Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who heads the archdiocese. Attorneys for several men suing the Roman Catholic church say documents they obtained through discovery show that the New Orleans Saints team aided the Archdiocese of New Orleans in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes.” Gayle Benson has given millions of dollars to Catholic institutions in the New Orleans area, and the archbishop is a regular guest of hers at games and charitable events for the church. Media reports say “multiple” Saints personnel, including Senior Vice President of Communications Greg Bensel, used their team email to advise church officials on “messaging” and how to soften the impact of the archdiocese’s release of a list of clergy members “credibly accused” of sexual abuse.
Police & Politian Cover-ups
Two Toledo police officers (one female, one male) have been disciplined by their superiors for “sharing sensitive information about the FBI’s plan” to serve a warrant on Fr. Michael Zacharias, a predator priest, in 2020. Their ‘heads up’ may have allowed the priest “to destroy evidence in the case.” “So what?” one might ask. “It’s long been documented that, years ago, decision-makers in business, government, law enforcement, and elsewhere curried favor with powerful prelates. What’s the big deal? But it doesn’t happen like that anymore.”
How we wish that were true. These two cases prove that secular complicity in clergy child sex abuse and cover-up cases still occurs. One high profile example: former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani hired an old pal of his named Fr. Alan Placa, who is both accused of committing and concealing child sexual abuse. And if you’ve seen the award-winning film Spotlight, about the diligent reporters who unearthed abuse and cover-up in Boston, you may recall that the opening scene showed police officers predicting that the arrest of a pedophile priest would quietly ‘go away’ and no charges will be filed. Many cases of what we’d call ‘external complicity’ in clergy sex crimes, however, involve misconduct from a decade or more in the past. But change comes slowly. Church officials are still influential (though much less so nowadays). People with power still tend to protect other people with power.
Usually, we at Horowitz Law try to view the glass as ‘half full’ In our experience, we’ve found that this helps to combat feelings of hopelessness on the part of both our clients and our staff. We try to step back and look at the ‘big picture’ or overall trends on abuse – which generally move in a positive direction – as opposed to fixating on the latest, narrow, individual legal setback – which inevitably feels negative and often leads to frustration and powerlessness. But that’s tough to do in situations like the recent ones with the Saints and the Toledo police.
Somehow, it’s less disturbing when fellow Catholic clerics help predator priests, in part, of course, because we’ve seen it happen so many times. Look at the two clerics who were caught corresponding with Maryland’s Fr. Laurence F. X. Brett when Brett was running from the law. The clerics knew the FBI was trying to find Brett and knew Brett was in the Caribbean but refused to tell anyone. It’s also less disturbing when Catholic supervisors, especially bishops, help predator priests. Again, we’ve seen it happen so many times. Look at California’s Fr. Xavier Ochoa, who was given a chance to flee overseas before the cops caught him by then-Bishop Daniel Walsh of Santa Rosa.
But currently serving police officers giving a ‘heads up’ to a serial predator priest is truly alarming. Remember, these are individuals who presumably chose their careers because they want to stop criminals, NOT help them. Again, court records, church documents, media exposes, and grand jury reports have repeatedly documented that this kind of complicity happened in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. It seemed to diminish in the wake of the 2002 Boston Globe’s Spotlight revelations. But the Fr. Zacharias case in Toledo shows that even now, in 2023, police with no direct obligation to or connection with the Catholic hierarchy sometimes lend a helping hand to a predator priest. And the New Orleans case shows that even now, in 2023, executives at a company with no direct obligation to the Catholic hierarchy sometimes lend a helping hand to a complicit archbishop.
So if ever you’re tempted to think, “I guess that sordid business of public servants or private executives helping bad priests and bishops doesn’t happen these days,” keep these two troubling instances in mind. And assume there are plenty of others that we have never heard about. Because sadly, it still does, so we must continue to fight this kind of complicity.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, please contact our law firm at 888-283-9922 or send an email to sexual abuse lawyer Adam Horowitz at [email protected]. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.