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Louisiana Supreme Court orders priest to violate seal of Confession

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
7/10/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Priest called to testify in abuse case.

The Louisiana Supreme Court is seeking to compel a Catholic priest to violate the confessional privilege under the state's mandated reporting laws. Under Canon Law, priests are prohibited from disclosing what is discussed in the confessional.

The seal of the sacrament of confession cannot be violated.

The seal of the sacrament of confession cannot be violated.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
7/10/2014 (2 years ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: Priest, confession, abuse, seal, louisiana, supreme court


BATON ROUGE, LA (Catholic Online) - The Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge is criticizing a decision by the Louisiana Supreme Court which seeks to require a priest to break the seal of confession and testify to what he was told by a penitent during the sacrament of confession.

This order would violate Canon Law, the law of the Church, which requires that a priest never disclose what is revealed to him in the confessional. .

Pray for all victims of abuse and the Church in these times.

A statement released by the Diocese says that Rev. Jeff Bayhi and the Diocese itself are defendants in a case where they are being compelled by the court to say whether they heard a confession and what the contents of that confession were.

The specific case involves an allegation of sexual abuse in which a minor daughter of some parishioners claim that she was subjected to inappropriate sexual conduct (abuse) at the hands of an adult parishioner. The child was 12 at the time the alleged abuse occurred.

According to the local sheriff, an investigation was ongoing when the accused man died in 2009 of a sudden heart attack. Local officials say the Church is required under mandated reporting laws to disclose such information to the authorities. The diocese is also accused of failing to train Father Bayhi to report such incidents.

However the Church teaching is very clear on this subject. The seal of confession is sacred and any priest who breaks that seal excommunicates himself, instantly.

Although the Church has been accused of sheltering child abusers, it has taken a hard line stance under Pope Benedict XVI and even harder under Francis. However, these reforms which target clergy who participate in cover-ups, do not change the sacred seal of confession which remains at the core of the Catholic understanding of the Confessional seal.

What is happening is that a civil court is infringing on the religious freedom of the Church..

It is not that the Church wants to protect a deceased man or that the word of the child is disputed. It is that the Church simply cannot comment on whether or not a confession took place and if so, what the details of that confession were. It simply isn't allowed under any circumstances.

"For a civil court to impinge upon the freedom of religion is a clear violation and the matter will be taken to the highest court in the land by the Church in order to protect its free exercise of religion," the statement said.

Unfortunately, while the issue is clear to the Church, it is not clear to the lawyers and judges. A reputation of concealing sexual abuse within the Church has created an attitude of mistrust and  hostility towards priests and anyone in the Church who is seen as trying to cover for a crime.

Worse, specific testimony by the child claims that Father Bayhi told the girl to resolve the matter herself because otherwise "too many people would be hurt."

The child allegedly told Father Bayhi that the man had emailed her excessively and asked to "make love to her." Eventually he touched and kissed her inappropriately.

An appeals court originally ruled that confessions are privileged communications and that mandated reporting does not apply in the confessional, but the state supreme court ruled that confidentiality can only be claimed on behalf of the confessor.

In this case the girl testified to what she said, thus waiving her right to confidentiality. In other words, confidentiality does not apply because the girl told the court in deposition what happened in the confessional.

Whether or not Father Bayhi gave poor advice to a hurting child who was a victim of abuse is a separate matter. Certainly, if he failed in his ministry to protect a child whom he knew was subject to abuse then he should answer for this before God and the Church.

However, the seal of the sacrament of confession is not up for debate or discussion. Supreme courts have jurisdiction over men but they have no jurisdiction over God's law, which is not subject to their review no matter how hard they try.

Fr. Bayhi may not disclose the content of a confession under penalty of excommunication. Nor should he be forced to. The precedent this would establish is far too serious to permit exception.

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