SNAP Reacts as Federal Judge Acknowledges Role in Saints Case

A federal judge recently acknowledged playing a role in the public relations campaign launched by the Archdiocese of New Orleans in November of 2018 as it rolled out its list of clergy abusers .

U.S. District Court Judge Jay Zainey said he told Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond that Greg Bensel, the Saint’s vice president of communications, could help manage the release. What exactly the NFL team did for the Archdiocese is now being scrutinized in a state court.

A federal judge is one of the most powerful of voices in our legal system. Judge Zainey is a devout Catholic and sits on the Board of Trustees of Notre Dame Seminary. As advocates for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, we are troubled by this revelation, and we renew our call for the public release of each and every email related to who did what to assist the Archdiocese in the roll out of their list. Sunshine is truly needed, particularly in the wake of this new admission.

It goes without saying that Judge Zainey must recuse himself from any cases related to the Catholic Church, to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. We can only hope that he has indeed done so in the 18 years that he has sat on the federal district court's bench in New Orleans.

According to media reports, Judge Zainey said that it was "Jay Zainey, not Judge Zainey" who gave advice to the Archdiocese. We are unclear how the judge can make that distinction when he offers counsel on issues that have legal ramifications for victims of abuse in Louisiana.

We also find it disturbing that Judge Zainey said that part of the message that Mr. Bensel could help the Archdiocese get out is that it could not "change the sins of the past." We would think that someone sitting on a federal district court should realize that both the abuse and its cover up are not sins, but crimes. Moreover, part of the reason for the public interest in the emails is to reveal whether or not these criminal acts are truly all in the past. We know that in jurisdictions which have launched independent investigations into clergy abuse priests are being prosecuted. It is beyond troubling that someone in Judge Zainey's position used the very language that we often hear from the Church in an effort to minimize the extent of the scandal.

What SNAP has seen across the country, time and again, is that when children are abused and the Catholic Church is accused of mishandling both the allegations and the abuser, powerful people and institutions often intercede to protect the Church instead of innocent young lives. We cannot help but wonder if this misplaced deference is one of the reasons why the New Orleans list contains only 63 names, when an independent researcher puts the number at 79, and SNAP's internal analytics suggest an even higher number.

CONTACT: Kevin Bourgeois, SNAP New Orleans (neworleans@snapnetwork.org, 504-376-5445),  Dan McNevin, SNAP Board Member (dmcnevin@aol.com, 415-341-6417), Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator (msakoda@snapnetwork.org, 925-708-6175), Zach Hiner, Executive Director (zhiner@zhiner@snapnetwork.org, 517-974-9009)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)


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