Louisiana Supreme Court has ordered a Catholic priest to break his confessional seal under the state’s mandated reporting laws after the 12-year-old girl alleged that a senior parishioner had sexually abused her and the accused priest had ignored her confessions instead of helping her.
Canon Law prohibits priests from revealing what is shared with them during a confession. Thus, the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge has condemned the court’s ruling via a statement saying Reverend Jeff Bayhi as well as the Diocese are defendants in the case that lawfully requires them to reveal what they heard from the penitent during confessions.
“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.
The Diocese has also been accused of failing to train Bayhi to report such incidents, something that locals believe Church must do under mandated reporting laws. However, the Church is very strict about such matters, maintaining that the seal of confession is sacred and anyone that violates it will be excommunicated immediately. The Diocese has threatened to take the matter to the United States Supreme Court, saying the issue concerns all religions and not just Catholicism.
According to the victim, the assaulter mailed her repeatedly asking to “make love to her”, and eventually kissed and fondled her. During her testimony, the girl said that she had confessed to Bayhi thrice but he asked her to resolve the issue on her own because it could potentially hurt too many people.
“This is your problem. Sweep it under the floor and get rid of it,” said Bayhi according to the girl.
While an appeals court ruled that mandated reporting does not apply to confessions as they are considered privileged communications, Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that only confessors can claim such a privilege. In this situation, since the girl had testified her allegations, the right to confidentiality was automatically waived.
The local sheriff said that the girl’s perpetrator, George Charlet, Junior, died in 2009 at the age of 65 due to a heart attack amidst ongoing investigations. Apparently, he was a reputed parishioner at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, where Bayhi served as a pastor.
In Charlet’s obituary, which was published in The Advocate, he shared a message that read in part, “I am alright with my God. He knows my heart. I bet my life on Him. I ain’t worried.”
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