Baton Rouge Diocese Taking Order to Break Seal of Confession to Supreme Court

Note Ruling Asks Court to Decide What Constitutes a Catholic Sacrament

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Below is a statement released Thursday by the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, regarding the next legal battles facing the diocese regarding the state supreme court’s attempt to mandate breaking the seal of confession.

The diocese reports that now the “Louisiana Supreme Court has directed the trial court to hold an evidentiary hearing and then to take the unprecedented step of deciding whether or not a sacrament actually took place.”

It notes that “civil courts are entirely without jurisdiction to decide what constitutes a sacrament in the Catholic Church.”

A statement on the case from July can be read here.

The case regards a girl who was sexually molested by an adult male and allegedly spoke with a priest in confession about the assault. 

The parents of the abuse victim have named the Diocese of Baton Rouge and a priest, Father Jeff Bayhi, as defendants in the suit. The parents allege that their daughter spoke to Father Bayhi in confession about the abuse, and that Fater Bayhi advised her not to report the incident.

According to the seal of confession, Father Bayhi cannot even say if he heard the girl’s confession(s), and if he did, cannot divulge anything that was spoken of within the sacrament.

Here is the diocese’s latest statement:

* * *

On August 15, 2014, the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge signed a Consent

Judgment submitted by all the parties to unseal portions of the record in the Mayeux v.

Diocese of Baton Rouge case. A copy of that order is attached. [here]

Now that a majority of the record has been unsealed, the Diocese of Baton Rouge takes this

opportunity to address a number of misconceptions and inaccurate depictions which have

appeared in the media of both the facts of this case and the legal arguments which the

diocese and Father Bayhi have advanced.

The primary legal argument advanced by the diocese and Father Bayhi in this case is that

Louisiana Children’s Code Article 603 is clear that a member of the clergy is not a

mandatory reporter when receiving communications that, according to the tenets of the

clergy member’s church, must be kept confidential. It is beyond dispute that the Catholic

Church requires that priests keep all that is learned during the Sacrament of Reconciliation

absolutely confidential under penalty of excommunication. Moreover, the recently

unsealed records of this case leave no question that the plaintiff alleges her

communications with Father Bayhi only took place during the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Because Father Bayhi is not a mandatory reporter as that term is defined in Children’s Code

Article 603 when receiving confessions, Children’s Code Article 609, which governs the

duties of mandatory reporters, has no applicability to him.

As a result, the diocese and Father Bayhi filed a motion to exclude from evidence any

mention of the alleged confessions, arguing that the plaintiff’s testimony about what

allegedly transpired during the sacrament was irrelevant because Father Bayhi is not a

mandatory reporter as a matter of law when administering the Sacrament of

Reconciliation. That motion was denied by the trial court, but was granted by the First

Circuit Court of Appeals.

Unfortunately, the Louisiana Supreme Court did not address the legal issue which with

both the trial court and the First Circuit had previously grappled. Instead, it denied the

motion based upon an argument that the diocese and Father Bayhi had never made;

namely, that Ms. Mayeux’s testimony was barred by the priest‐penitent privilege contained

in Louisiana Code of Evidence article 511. The record in the trial court, and in the First

Circuit, makes clear that this was never the defendants’ position, and that at all times, the

motion to exclude evidence of the confessions was based upon the fact that Ms. Mayeux’s

testimony on her participation in the sacrament was irrelevant at trial because Father

Bayhi is not a mandatory reporter while receiving confession.

More troublingly, the Louisiana Supreme Court has suggested that whether or not Father

Bayhi had a duty to report turns upon whether or not his alleged conversations with Ms.

Mayeux were “confessions per se.” More specifically, the court suggests that if the

communications were truly confessions, then Father Bayhi had no duty to report, but if the

communications were not confessions, then a duty to report may have existed. However,

the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution plainly forecloses

such an inquiry, as civil courts are entirely without jurisdiction to decide what constitutes a

sacrament in the Catholic Church.

Accordingly, the Diocese of Baton Rouge and Fr. Bayhi have filed a Petition for Writ of

Certiorari with the United States Supreme Court seeking to reverse the Louisiana Supreme

Court’s decision. A copy of that petition filed on August 21, 2014 is attached. [here]

There has also been a great deal of attention paid to Ms. Mayeux’s alleged statements to

Father Bayhi during the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and in many instances, those alleged

statements have been treated as established fact. However, it is critical to recall that Father

Bayhi is constrained, under penalty of excommunication from the Catholic Church, to

discuss, or otherwise respond to, Ms. Mayeux’s allegations. Indeed, Father Bayhi cannot

even address whether or not Ms. Mayeux engaged in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, much

less divulge what, if anything, was said during any administration of the Sacrament.

In closing, the Louisiana Supreme Court’s ruling strikes a very hard blow against religious

freedom, and one which the diocese and Father Bayhi feel compelled to vigorously contest.

That ruling, left undisturbed, would result in a trial during which the plaintiffs would be

permitted to offer evidence regarding what transpired during a series of alleged

confessions, with Father Bayhi and the diocese utterly unable to defend themselves ‐‐

unless Father Bayhi were to violate his vows to his church by divulging whether or not Ms.

Mayeux obtained confession, and, if such confessions did take place, what was said. The

Louisiana Supreme Court has directed the trial court to hold an evidentiary hearing and

then to take the unprecedented step of deciding whether or not a sacrament actually took

place. Such a trial is completely at odds with the guarantees of religious freedom enshrined

in our federal and state constitutions, and the diocese and Father Bayhi will take every

legal step available to ensure that those proceedings never occur.

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