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New Orleans, La., Jan 24, 2020 / 06:29 pm (CNA).- The New Orleans Saints have said assistance that team personnel offered to the Archdiocese of New Orleans on communications strategy was not a coverup, but disclosure.

The team’s claim comes amid a sexual abuse lawsuit filed against the archdiocese. Saints officials said that team personnel offered assistance to archdiocesan officials on how to manage a 2018 report on clerics removed from ministry for alleged sexual abuse, but that the Saints personnel did not act improperly, according to the AP.

At the center of the suit 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.

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.

In July 2019, The New Orleans Advocate reported that attorneys of an alleged victim of Brignac were working to obtain copies of any communications between employees of the New Orleans archdiocese and those of the New Orleans Saints. The alleged victim's lawsuit, which WVUE identified as John Doe versus the Catholic Church of New Orleans and Deacon George Brignac, says the archdiocese failed to protect him from Brignac.

The attorneys said they had evidence that the Saints' Senior VP of Communications, Greg Bensel, advised the archdiocese on its 2018 clergy abuse report, and that they wanted to understand how the Saints may have been “supporting the archdiocese on addressing sexual abuse claims and the media coverage surrounding these claims.”

The AP reported Jan. 24 that lawyers “for about two dozen men suing the church” said documents obtained through discovery demonstrated that the Saints assisted the archdiocese in its “pattern and practice of concealing its crimes so that the public does not discover its criminal behavior.” They said Bensel and other Saints employees had advised Church officials on “messaging” related to the clerical abuse of minors.

The plaintiffs are seeking to have the communications made public, which both the Saints and the archdiocese are opposing.

A special master appointed by the court “is expected to hear arguments in the coming weeks on whether the communications should remain confidential,” Jim Mustian of the AP wrote. The AP has filed a motion supporting their publication.

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.”

According to the AP, an archdiocesan attorney had said the request to have the communications released was part of a “proverbial witch hunt with respect to decades-old abuse” and that it was merely an effort to let the media “unfairly try to tar and feather the archdiocese.”

Brignac, 85, was ordained in 1976, and an allegation against him was received the following year. He held pastoral assignments at Cabrini High School, Our Lady of the Rosary, and St. Frances Cabrini School in New Orleans; St. Louise de Marillac School in Arabi; and St. Matthew the Apostle School in River Ridge.

He was charged with indecent behavior with a juvenile in 1977, and was acquitted the next year.

In 1980, Brignac was booked with indecent behavior with a juvenile and contributing to the delinquency of a juvenile, but the allegations were not prosecuted, the New Orleans Advocate reported.

In 1988, charges of abuse of a juvenile were filed, but dismissed by the state.

The New Orleans archdiocese has settled several lawsuits involving Brignac.

One of those settlements, made in May 2018, was for more than $500,000. The victim said he was abused as an altar boy at Holy Rosary School in New Orleans beginning in 1979. Roger Stetter, the plaintiff's attorney, told the New Orleans Advocate shortly after that “it was a fair settlement, and it was very, very prompt.” He added, “I think the archdiocese is doing a lot to try to curtail this type of abuse. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to weed out possible pedophiles.”

Stetter also said Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans is “a good man and wants to do right by the victims, even though it may cost the church a lot of money.”

For several years, until shortly after the May 2018 settlement, Brignac served as a lector at St. Mary Magdalene parish in Metairie, adjacent to New Orleans. The New Orleans archdiocese said its leaders were unaware he was lectoring until after the settlement was publicized, and that the priest who allowed it “was wrong to do so.”

In September 2019 Brignac was arrested on a count of first-degree rape, after a former altar boy said he had been repeatedly raped by the deacon 40 years ago.

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 05:15 pm (CNA).- Pro-life unity comes before party loyalty, a Democratic state senator said Friday at the national March for Life on Friday.

“This is not a party issue. This is an issue of unifying America,” Louisiana State Sen. Katrina Jackson (D) told CNA in an interview on Friday, before the 47th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.  Jackson addressed the March for Life rally later in the day.

“This is an issue that hits every community, and it’s not about where we come from or what party you’re a part of or a member of. This issue is about America itself and our children,” she said.

Jackson said her views on abortion are rooted in her Christian faith. 

“God hates the shedding of innocent blood,” Jackson said.

“So when America really wants to see a turnaround, in our economy and in the things that we are concerned about,” she said, “we have to honor God. And being pro-life is a part of honoring God.”

Jackson was one of a series of speakers from both political parties at Friday’s March for Life rally on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  

“I tell everyone Louisiana is the number one pro-life state, and you know why? Because in Louisiana the majority of Democrats that are elected are pro-lifers,” Jackson said at the rally.

Louisiana is evidence that bipartisan unity on the issue is possible, she said, while exhorting the pro-life movement to put the principle of unity into practice.

“In unity, we must fight like we’ve never fought before,” she said.

The lineup of speakers at the rally most notably included President Donald Trump, the first president to attend a March for Life in person.

Trump addressed thousands of rally participants as his impeachment trial continued in the U.S. Senate on Friday, with House trial managers making their case for a conviction on two counts of abuse of office and obstruction of Congress.

Louisiana’s First Lady Donna Hutto Edwards—whose husband John Bel Edwards is the Democratic governor who signed a “heartbeat” abortion ban into law in 2019—also spoke from the rally stage.

“Pro-life is pro-woman," Edwards said at the rally. “Life is precious in every stage and should be respected and protected.”

Jackson told CNA on Friday morning that, even though Louisiana voters might in general be more pro-life than the rest of the country, other states do have pro-life who constituencies who oppose abortion, in whole or in part. Pro-lifers need to unify behind pro-life candidates from both parties, she said.

“And so that is my concern, that if life is the issue, which it is—doesn’t matter what party you’re a member of—that pro-lifers should support each other,” she told CNA.

“And I’m hoping that what we’re seeing in Louisiana begins to basically move throughout other states.”

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), an eight-term pro-life Catholic congressman, is a national example of a politician deserving of pro-life support, she said.

His “Republican constituency” may disagree with some of his votes, she said, but the message of bipartisan unity is making inroads around the country.

Earlier this month, Lipinski told CNA that support of his campaign from pro-life groups was “not as much as I’d like to see,” as he faces a second consecutive primary challenge from pro-abortion candidate Marie Newman.

Jackson, answering for herself, said on Friday that as a Democrat she has seen support from national pro-life groups including National Right to Life and Susan B. Anthony List, as well as the group Save the Storks.

Jackson was a keynote speaker at Save the Stork's annual charity ball on Thursday evening.

Through attending national events, Jackson said she has discovered Democrats from around the country who either oppose abortion or are in disagreement with the party’s radical shift in support of abortion.

The 2016 DNC platform that stated “unequivocal” support for abortion access, and no 2020 Democratic presidential candidate opposes taxpayer funding of abortion.

Jackson said she is working to give pro-life Democrats “a place back in their party.”

“I really believe that we’re on the cusp of really building up the party and understanding that what you believe, or what the party platform is, is not what most Democrats believe,” she said.

Washington D.C., Jan 24, 2020 / 04:45 pm (CNA).- On Friday, President Donald Trump became the first U.S. president to address the March for Life in person. His appearance was greeted by pro-lifers with both excitement and hesitation.

The presence of the president brought with it additional security, similar to when Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the pre-march rally in 2017. 

Trump’s decision to attend personally, instead of via video message as in past years, meant attendees were prevented from bringing certain items to the rally, faced long lines, and had to pass through metal detectors before entering the Mall.

The extra measures discouraged some potential attendees, who stayed away, worried that the logistics of juggling security and children would be too much. 

Connie Poulos told CNA that she had already decided, reluctantly, to skip this year’s march due rather than face the event solo with her young son. The news that Trump was speaking at the rally made her feel “less bad” about missing the event, because she feared the president would alienate non-Republicans. 

“As a pro-life person, I think the movement needs all the help it can get to cross party lines,” she said.

While signs are always commonplace at the March for Life, this year's had a distinctly partisan bent. Familiar “Vote Life” or “Choose Life” signs manufactured by the Knights of Columbus were joined this time by “Pro-Life Voices For Trump” and “Most Pro-Life President Ever” signs with pictures of president. These signs were supplied by the RNC and were distributed at the rally by volunteers.  

Despite hesitation by some, most attendees CNA spoke with said they were happy about the president’s appearance.  

“President Trump is one of the greatest presidents that this country has ever had. A man who has a heart after God to do what God has called him to do, in spite of [what] anybody else thinks or [does],” Barbara Bell, who described herself as a “black American who loves the Lord Jesus Christ, and loves President Trump,” told CNA. 

Bell, who is 70 years old, told CNA she was attending her fortieth March for Life in 2020. She came down from Massachusetts for the event, and said she was even more excited than usual when she heard that Trump would be speaking. 

While politically independent, Bell said that she was impressed with what Trump had accomplished during his time in office. 

Mimi Vertrees, an 18 year old attending the March for Life for the first time, traveled to DC from Nashville, Tennessee. She carried a sign reading “Stop Calling Violence Feminism,” and she told CNA that she believed there is a “misconception” about feminism because of its embrace of abortion.

Vertrees said she thought it was “amazing” that Trump was coming to address the March for Life, and that she was “so excited” when she found out he would be coming. She stressed that she thought it was important for the president to be physically present at the event.

One young woman was en route to Washington when she found out that Trump would be speaking at the rally. Quinley Fawks, who traveled 22 hours on a bus from Salisbury, Missouri to attend the March for Life, said that finding out Trump was coming heightened her anticipation. 

After it was announced on Wednesday that Trump would be attending the rally, Fawks told CNA, her bus leader made the announcement, and “everyone was really excited. We were surprised and happy.” 

This was Fawks’ second time attending the March for Life, and she said that she made the choice to embark on the long journey because “We’re here to save the babies.” 

One rally attendee who was not excited to see Trump was Clarence Richard of Minnetonka, Minnesota. Richard was dressed as Uncle Sam, and his hat read “U.S. Army Veteran” and “Remove the GOP.” 

Richard was most upset by Trump’s policies at the southern border, which resulted in children being separated from their parents. He carried two dolls, which he said were meant to “represent the young children at the border.” 

While this was Richard’s first March for Life, he said he had been a longtime supporter of the pro-life cause. 

“This is bananas,” said Richard. “We shouldn’t be allowing [Trump] to speak. 

Each year the March for Life winds its way past the Canadian embassy, where a small contingent of Canadians come out to show their support. Valerie Luetke of Oakville, Ontario, was one of the people there this year. 

This said this was her first trip to the March for Life in the United States, but she had attended the Canadian March for Life in Ottawa several times. 

“We just kind of wanted to see how big it is, how passionate [everyone] is, and of course, Trump is speaking,” Luetke said. She told CNA that she found Trump’s speech to be “amazing,” especially because Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, is publicly against the pro-life cause, she said. 

“It’s really inspiring,” she said. “I know not everyone supports him for all of his policies, but I think the fact that he’s here is really amazing.”