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Diocese denounces Louisiana court order for priest to break confessional seal

Catholic World News - July 08, 2014

The Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has vigorously denounced a ruling by the state’s highest court that would compel a priest to violate the seal of confession or face possible imprisonment.

The Louisiana Supreme Court, in a May ruling, overturned a lower court’s decision and ordered a hearing on a lawsuit brought by parents of a girl who was allegedly molested by an adult man. The parents have named the Baton Rouge diocese and a priest, Father Jeff Bayhi, as defendants in the suit. They claim that when the girl mentioned the man’s sexual advances in the course of making her confession, Father Bayhi advised her not to report the incident.

Father Bayhi, bound by the seal of confession, cannot report what the girl told him, or what he said to her.

The man whose alleged advances form the original basis for the lawsuit was under criminal investigation for sexual abuse when he died in 2009. The girl’s parents filed their lawsuit shortly thereafter.

The Louisiana Supreme Court has ordered hearing to determine whether the girl mentioned alleged sexual abuse in her confession, “and if so, what the contents of any such confessions were.” The court claimed—inaccurately—that the seal of confession protects only the penitent. Since the girl had waived her right to secrecy, the court said, Father Bayhi should be required to testify about the confession.

Correcting the court’s error, the Baton Rouge diocese said that “the seal of confession is absolute and inviolable,” and Father Bayhi is prohibited by canon law from divulging anything that he heard in the course of a confession. The court’s decision “assaults the heart of a fundamental doctrine of the Catholic faith,” the diocesan statement said.

“This matter cuts to the core of the Catholic faith, and for a civil court to inquire as to whether or not a factual situation establishes the Sacrament of Confession is a clear and unfettered violation of the Establishment Clause of the Constitution of the United States,” the diocese charged.

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Show 10 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: jackist7902 - Jul. 09, 2014 11:49 AM ET USA

    Having read the Court's opinion, I'm not seeing where they required the priest to break the seal of confession. It appears to me that the Court said that a judge can permit a penitent to voluntarily testify about what was said during confession. The real problem with the opinion appears to be the suggestion that a priest might have a duty to report what was said during confession.

  • Posted by: unum - Jul. 09, 2014 10:48 AM ET USA

    One more attack on our Constitutional right of freedom of religion by our secular government. This attack by should be taken all the way to the Supreme Court by the diocese and the USCCB in order to protect this important Constitutional right. The Louisiana Supreme Court clearly applied state legislative standards in its erroneous ruling instead of Constitutional standards.

  • Posted by: feedback - Jul. 09, 2014 9:49 AM ET USA

    Response to comment by Erusmas, The Seal of Confession is not a "confidentiality contract" of which the confessor could be released by his penitent. The Seal means that a sacramental Confession happens only between the soul and Christ represented by one of his priests. None of the information exchanged in the Sacrament is to be revealed by the priest to be utilized by someone else. A priest who breaks the Seal of Confession corrupts the Sacrament and risks no less than his eternal salvation.

  • Posted by: Japheth - Jul. 09, 2014 9:48 AM ET USA

    What happens next? Is this going to get appealed to the federal courts? This ruling must not stand.

  • Posted by: vjenkins78814 - Jul. 08, 2014 11:50 PM ET USA

    I stand with the Diocese of Baton Rouge Louisiana. That priest should not be compelled to break the seal of the confessional. Shame on that court. Why do they think that when a priest is assigned to parish that the diocese contacts the court to grant them faculties? It's to protect the seal of the confessional.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Jul. 08, 2014 11:04 PM ET USA

    Priests will go to jail before they will break the confessional seal. We need to stand with our priests and stand up for this Sacrament and its absolute inviolability.

  • Posted by: Erusmas - Jul. 08, 2014 9:37 PM ET USA

    "The Court claimed -- inaccurately -- that the seal of confession protects only the penitent. Since the girl had waived her right to secrecy" the priest should be required to testify about the confession. The Diocese supposedly corrected the court's error. The Court follows St. Thomas (S.T. Supp, Q 11, a 4). Canon 983 of the 1983 Code of Canon law does indeed say the seal is "inviolable; therefore it is a crime for a confessor in anyway to betray a penitent. Does he "betray" if she permits?

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Jul. 08, 2014 7:32 PM ET USA

    What a stark contrast to recent decisions in the Anglican brand of Christianity that make their ministers agents of the state! I can't think of any facet of Catholicism more important to defend than this. THIS is indeed where the "rubber hits the road".

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Jul. 08, 2014 6:06 PM ET USA

    First, remember that the culture's goal is to destroy the Catholic Church. This would be a fast way to either destroy our credibility and ministry or get this one priest out of action. Second, considering what Planned Parenthood tells girls who have been seduced and impregnated by adult men, why aren't they all being harassed?

  • Posted by: feedback - Jul. 08, 2014 12:30 PM ET USA

    This is what happens when state bureaucrats get all their knowledge of the Catholic faith from Hollywood.

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