Skip to comments.Overreach in Louisiana: The State Has No Place in the Church Confessional
Posted on 07/15/2014 6:38:24 AM PDT by SeekAndFind
When in 2008 Father Jeff Bayhi, a priest then at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Clinton, La., heard the troubling confession of a twelve-year-old parishioner, he likely did not imagine that his sacramental duty would land him in prison. But given a recent ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court, Father Bayhi is in the position of choosing between prison and excommunication.
Per the Supreme Courts ruling, Bayhi must appear before the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, which will determine whether what he heard a civil action by the girls parents contends that it involved allegations of sexual abuse by a 64-year-old parishioner constituted a confession or instead some other non-confidential statement that invoked Bayhis duty to report abuse under Louisianas Childrens Code. Under the law, members of the clergy are mandatory reporters except when they have a duty to keep private confidential communications shared in the course of the discipline or practice of that church by the discipline or tenets of the church (CHC 603.17.c).
If what Bayhi heard was in fact a confession, that provision would seem to exempt him, except that under Louisiana law, priestpenitent privilege attaches to the client, not the priest. If the client chooses to make the contents of a confession public, the priest can be called to confirm or deny the testimony. However, Church teaching makes no provisions for the statutes of Louisiana: The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason (Code of Canon Law 983.1). Priests who make known directly or indirectly to a third party the contents of a confession are automatically excommunicated, subject to reversal by the pope alone. The inviolability of sacramental confession has been formally communicated since the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215, though its origins predate that.
There is an apparent conflict between the ages-old laws of the Catholic Church and Louisiana legislation passed in 1991, but it is not the role of the states supreme court to adjudicate between the two. The First Amendment and historical precedent clearly shield Father Bayhi from having to testify in violation of his vocation.
Insofar as the First Amendment intended any separation between church and state, it was to protect the church from the state, not vice versa. The notion of a judge having the ability to determine what is or is not a confession should be deeply disturbing. To make the secrecy of the confession booth subject to the judiciary would effectively destroy the sacrament of Penance, which is facilitated by the penitents knowledge that he can confess any action to the priest without fearing legal consequences.
Making the sacrament a vehicle of the law pressures Catholics to forgo confession in order to avoid the possibility of state punishment, in which case the state would be coercing the consciences of Catholics and restricting their constitutional right to freely exercise their religion. Additionally, requiring priests to report confessions increases the likelihood that priests would refuse to hear them for fear of making themselves subject to legal action. This would be an obvious violation of the First Amendment rights of Catholic clergy.
American law has long understood this. As early as 1813, American courts recognized a priests ability to refuse to testify in court about conversations in the confession booth. Five years later, a separate court made the same decision. No precedent exists in American jurisprudence for compelling a priest to testify to confidential communications, and most states have expressly privileged particular communications with clergy.
It is worth noting that there is a question of whether the priest fulfilled his clerical obligations in response to the allegations. While troubling, that is not at issue here. He may roundly deserve discipline from the Church. But failures of vocational ethics do not exclude one from the protections of the First Amendment.
The constitutional principle at stake here is fundamental to the religious liberty of millions of Americans and the clergy who serve them. Father Bayhi should be subject to the disciplinary powers of his ecclesial authorities, but he cannot be allowed to be subject to the coercive powers of the state.
The facts are hard to tweeze out of this story.
It seems that a girl told a priest in a confessional that a 64 year old man was raping her and the priest treated that as a confession?
Importantly, communist nations with Catholics and other Orthodox established a priority early on that all confessionals must be electronically bugged, because what was said within was of intense interest to the secret police.
Since doctor-patient confidentiality has been effectively destroyed by HIPAA, the confessional has become the most important target of the authoritarian in the US.
(I might add that government wants total control over all religious sacraments, marriage being just the most recent to be absorbed. Eventually government wants recognition as “god”, taking over the role from God.)
If what Bayhi heard was in fact a confession,
The whole idea of the State trying to force a priest to tell what he heard in Confession is stupid.
What guilty murderer, etc. would go to Confession if the State succeeds? So, this is an attempt by the State to prevent people from going to Confession if they must admit any breach of law.
By the way, the priest must not grant forgiveness to such a confessor unless he (the confessor) admits his sin to the government.
How is it a confession if the child didn’t do anything???
“All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”
- Benito Mussolini
Ok, find another reason to throw this priest in jail. He did NOTHING to protect this girl.
“It seems that a girl told a priest in a confessional that a 64 year old man was raping her and the priest treated that as a confession?”
She was either seeking advice because she had no way to stop the rapist, or she might have been guilty of allowing the rape to happen. You can’t possibly know which it was.
Very good comment.
A 12 year old guilty of “allowing” a rape? Listen to yourself.
“A 12 year old guilty of allowing a rape? Listen to yourself.”
Were you in the confessional? We have NO idea what she said. Perhaps the rapist threatened to kill her or to harm some other member of her family and she was afraid of going to the police. YOU WEREN’T in the Confessional.
It is crystal clear what happened in that confessional. A twelve year old girl asked for help from an adult she trusted and she got nothing.
Per Church rules anything divulged during the course of a confession cannot be later confirmed by the priest to anyone, even if the person who divulged it wants him to. The priest can’t even confirm to anyone he heard a particular confession from a particular person in the first place, to my understanding.
This is the first time I have seen that the law was changed in ‘91 to presumably allow one party to end confidentiality. So my question is why hasn’t this come up before now in the case of confession?
Yes, I do not agree with this “priest” in any way.
Just reinforces my (lack of) regard for the practices of this church.
“It is crystal clear what happened in that confessional. A twelve year old girl asked for help from an adult she trusted and she got nothing.”
Do you mean ‘allegedly a twelve year old girl asked for help from an adult she trusted and got nothing?’
We don’t know what was said in the confessional by either party and the perp is now deceased. The reason this is coming to light is because the girl, now 18, and the parents want money from the Church. They know the priest cannot tell if he counseled her to tell authorities, she can, however, say anything she wants and he cannot defend himself.
Well, they’ll be sued into oblivion if this stands because I don’t see anyway for them to defend themselves from those looking for damages for something that allegedly happened in a confession that allegedly led to something actionable against the diocese. So there’s that to look forward to, I suppose.
The fact of the matter is, as discussed on a related thread, the alleged confession occurred six years ago. So if the parties involved are interested in justice, they should have the girl, now legally a woman, testify in a court of law. There’s no reason to be asking the priest what was said, the victim can testify herself as to what she told the priest.
Why isn’t that being done? I didn’t see any discussion about that question on the previous thread. I suppose one possibility is because she’s too traumatized by the whole affair but another is simply because, as has also been brought up as a possibility here, this is an attempt by secularists to gain control over the Confessional. I’m sure that’s at least some part of the motivation of some involved in this case. Not the young woman but others supposedly representing her “interests”.
Let’s also not forget that the perpetrator if this crime is dead. He died of a heart attack in the course of a criminal investigation. So there’s nothing to be done here but persecute a priest for keeping the seal of confession inviolate.
Let me ask you something directly DManA: do you think a priest should be required by law to report something he heard in the course of a confession to the police, if said confession contains an admission of a crime, either committed or ongoing?
If you answer that question it may save you some time because I’m going to tell you now: priests are not allowed to tell anyone anything about any confession, even if said confession took place. Period.
So if you answer “yes” to the above your issue is not with this priest in particular but with the Catholic Church.
I see no reason in beating around that bush.