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US Supreme Court declines to hear appeal of Louisiana case challenging confessional seal

January 20, 2015

The US Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal of a Louisiana ruling that would force a Catholic priest to disclose what he heard in a sacramental confession or face imprisonment.

Last May, the Supreme Court of Louisiana ruled that the confessional seal does not apply if the penitent waives the right to confidentiality. The Diocese of Baton Rouge appealed the decision, saying that violation of the confessional seal “cuts to the core of the Catholic faith.”

By declining to hear the appeal, the US Supreme Court let the Louisiana decision stand.

The case involves a lawsuit brought by the parents of a girl who was allegedly molested by an adult man. The parents charge that the girl mentioned the man’s actions during a confession, and the priest, Father Jeff Bayhi, advised her not to report the incident. Father Bayhi, bound by the seal of confession, cannot respond to that charge.

The Louisiana Supreme Court had ordered a hearing to determine what the girl said in her confession. The court argued that the confessional seal exists only to protect the penitent, and can be waived if—as in this case—the penitent asks the priest to reveal what he heard.

The man accused of molesting the girl is now deceased.

 
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