BATON ROUGE, LA.: Catholics are decrying a recent Louisiana Supreme Court decision that reaches into the most sanctified of church places, the confessional booth.
The ruling revives a lawsuit that contends a priest should have reported allegations of sexual abuse disclosed to him during private confessions and opens the door for a judge to call the priest to testify about what he was told. The lawsuit was filed by parents of a teen who says she told the priest about being kissed and fondled by an adult church parishioner.
If the priest were called to testify, Catholic groups say it could leave him choosing between prison and excommunication.
“Confession is one of the most sacred rites in the Church. The Sacrament is based on a belief that the seal of the confessional is absolute and inviolable. A priest is never permitted to disclose the contents of any Confession,” Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said in a statement this week blasting the ruling.
Catholic groups and a national organization that tracks church sex abuse cases said Thursday they weren’t aware of any other cases in which a priest has been compelled to discuss what’s said during a confessional.
The local Catholic diocese said that the ruling violates constitutional separations between church and state and it will seek U.S. Supreme Court intervention.
At issue is a 2009 lawsuit in which the parents say their daughter’s sexual abuse was ignored by her local priest, the Rev. Jeff Bayhi, and the Roman Catholic Church of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
The lawsuit alleges that in the summer of 2008, a 64-year-old parishioner at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in East Feliciana Parish kissed and fondled the 14-year-old girl and pursued her with emails and phone calls.
The daughter said she confided in Bayhi. In a court deposition, the girl said Bayhi told her to handle the situation herself because “too many people would be hurt” otherwise.