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Legal battle isn’t over for priest who refuses to break confessional seal

Lisa Bourne Lisa Bourne Follow Lisa

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana, August 23, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – A Louisiana state judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit involving the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, one of its priests, and the confessional seal.

District Judge Mike Caldwell ruled Monday that an East Baton Rouge Parish jury should determine whether what Rebecca Mayeux allegedly told Father Jeff Bayhi in the confessional as a teenager about being sexually abused was by definition a confession and therefore confidential, or if she was simply looking for help.

Under penalty of excommunication, a Catholic priest may not reveal what he learns during the Sacrament of Confession under any circumstances, even when a penitent confesses criminal activity. According to the Church’s catechism, the sacramental seal is called such because what the penitent has revealed is sealed by the sacrament.

Mayeux, a minor when her parents sued Father Bayhi and the diocese in 2009 on her behalf, is now in her early 20s. The suit argues that Father Bayhi should have reported the abuse Mayeux reportedly disclosed to him in the confessional in 2008.

Father Bayhi has testified that he can’t reveal what he was told or even confirm that he heard Mayeux’s confession, citing the confessional seal. The diocese has maintained the absolute secrecy of the confessional and stood by Father Bayhi.

Caldwell and a state appeals court ruled last year that Mayeux may tell a jury what she allegedly revealed to Father Bayhi in the confessional, The Advocate reported, but the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the seal of confession in a ruling last fall.

The state Supreme Court ruling last October said "any communication made to a priest privately in the sacrament of confession for the purpose of confession, repentance, and absolution is a confidential communication … and the priest is exempt from mandatory reporter status."

More than a dozen Catholic, Christian, and pro-life organizations had filed an amicus brief in support of the diocese and Father Bayhi after the high court initially ordered Father Bayhi to testify as to whether or not confessions occurred, and if so, what the contents of the confessions were.

In that 2014 ruling, the Supreme Court said, “There exists material issues of fact concerning whether the communications between the child and the priest were confessions per se and whether the priest obtained knowledge outside the confessional that would trigger his duty to report.”

An attorney for the Baton Rouge diocese and Father Bayhi argued to Caldwell on Monday that Mayeux alleged in her suit in 2009 the statements she made to the priest were during the sacrament of confession but then described her statements differently in a later deposition, as a non-confidential cry for help.

Mayeux’s attorney said her position has not changed and maintained the communications were not confidential.

Caldwell said in his Monday decision, "The Supreme Court said it's a factual issue that goes to the jury."

Mayeux contends she told Father Bayhi of the alleged abuse by a fellow parishioner during a series of confessions in 2008 when Father Bayhi was her pastor at Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church in Clinton.

The alleged abuser, George Charlet Jr., died of a heart attack in 2009 while under criminal investigation. His estate also is a defendant in the case.

The Advocate report said the case is set for trial on Oct. 23.

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