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Louisiana court: woman may testify about what she said to priest in Confession

August 03, 2016

In a 2-1 ruling, a Louisiana appellate court has ruled that a woman whose family is suing the Diocese of Baton Rouge and one of its priests may testify about what she told the priest during Confession.

In his dissenting opinion, Judge Guy Holdridge wrote that “allowing Plaintiffs to mention, reference, or introduce evidence at trial of the confessions at issue will place an undue burden on Father [Jeff] Bayhi’s right to the free exercise of his religion and violates the constitutional command of separation of church and state.”

The ruling comes in a long-running case in which Father Jeff Bayhi had been directed to testify about what a 14-year-old eportedly told him in Confession. The young woman has said that she told Father Bayhi about being molested by a member of his parish. Father Bayhi had refused to testify, citing the inviolability of the confessional seal.

Earlier this year, a lower court ruled that the state law making priests mandated reporters of sexual abuse was unconstitutional insofar as it applied to confessions, since it violated religious freedom. That decision has been appealed to a different court.

In an earlier phase of the case, the Louisiana Supreme Court had said that Father Bayhi could be required to testify, because in this case the penitent had waived the protection of the confessional seal. Church officials pointed out that the seal cannot be waived, and a priest cannot reveal the contents of a confession under any circumstances. Last year the US Supreme Court had declined to hear the case.

 
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  • Posted by: Daniel Conte - Aug. 03, 2016 7:05 AM ET USA

    What value would it have? Any priest who would break the seal of confession wouldn't be above lying under oath.