Louisiana judge strikes down law that requires
priest to report abuse mentioned in confession
March 1, 2016
A Louisiana judge has ruled unconstitutional a new state law requiring priests to report sexual abuse that is mentioned in a sacramental confession.
On Friday Judge Mike Caldwell made his ruling in a long-running and complicated case in which Fr. Jeff Bayhi, a priest of the diocese of Baton Rouge, had been directed to testify about what a young woman reportedly told him in a 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.
Judge Caldwell 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.
Fr. Bayhi testified Friday in court that he would be automatically excommunicated if he revealed what was said in confession.
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 United States Supreme Court had declined to hear the case.
During the appeal to the Supreme Court, Catholic Action for Faith and Family joined the defense and filed an Amicus Brief to the Supreme Court of the United States in support of the diocese of Baton Rouge.
A state appeals court initially ruled that a confession, made by a minor allegedly regarding her sexual abuse at the hands of a parishioner, was “confidential” and that the priest did not have to testify in court as to its alleged contents or whether it even took place.
However, in May of 2014 the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that the priest of the Baton Rouge Diocese could be forced to testify in court about the supposed confession. That is when it was appealed to the Supreme Court.
Working with nationally acclaimed attorney Charles LiMandri and his team of attorneys, Catholic Action for Faith and Family obtained the support of seventeen other Catholic and Christian organizations who signed on to the Brief. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, Catholic Answers and Priests for Life were just a few of the organizations who joined the Brief.
“We are very pleased with this ruling protecting the religious liberty of Fr. Bayhi and the Catholic Church” commented Thomas McKenna president of Catholic Action for Faith and Family.
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