Louisiana Judge Rules That Priests Don’t Have to Report Abuse if They Hear It During Confession

A Louisiana judge has struck down part of a mandatory reporting law that requires priests to report suspected child abuse.

Because religious freedom, that’s why.

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A Louisiana judge has struck down a state requirement that clergy members report suspected child abuse even if they learn about it during a private confessional.

State District Judge Mike Caldwell ruled Friday that the requirement — a Louisiana Children’s Code provision — violates the constitutionally protected religious freedom rights of a Roman Catholic priest accused of neglecting his duty to report a teenager’s abuse allegations to authorities.

The victim, Rebecca Mayeaux, had confided to Jeff Bayhi during confession that she was being molested by a sixty-four-year-old parishioner. Not only did Bayhi not report the abuse, but, according to Mayeaux, he offered appalling advice as well:

In court, Judge Caldwell ruled Bayhi’s religious freedom rights would be violated if he was forced to talk about the alleged confession.

Two years ago, Mayeux told us she went to Father Bayhi seeking advice when she was 14, because she trusted him more than her parents. Court records show when Mayeux went to Bayhi, Rebecca says he told her, “This is your problem, sweep it under the floor and get rid of it.”

But, on the stand today, Father Bayhi told a Judge he can’t even confirm whether someone even came to confession. That’s just how sacred it is. He added no one would trust priests if confessions were public.

Father Paul Counce is a canon lawyer for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. Counce testified this morning that priests can be excommunicated if they break the seal of confession.

In a move that hardly inspires the trust Bayhi claims to be so keen to protect, not only did Bayhi refuse to discuss what happened, but the church tried to prevent Rebecca from discussing their conversation on the stand:

Earlier in the day, the Diocese tried to prohibit Mayeux from testifying about what she told Father Bayhi during that alleged confession. A judge ruled she could testify about what she told him, but her attorney can’t argue that Bayhi was mandated to report that.

After the ruling, Bayhi declared the win a victory for religious liberty.

“We’re just always happy when the court upholds religious liberties,” Bayhi said as he left the courthouse.

Bishop Robert Muench, of Baton Rouge diocese, praised the ruling in a statement Friday.

“The court’s decision to uphold the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion is essential and we appreciate the ruling,” he said.

How’s that for logic? The state upheld the right of the religious to ignore abuse if they learned of it in confessional. Because shouldn’t the Church’s “religious liberty” trump the rights of kids not to be raped? That’s practically Church doctrine at this point, isn’t it? And, anyway, people may lose faith in an organization like the Catholic Church if it started protecting children…

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Amanda for the link)

About Rachel Ford

Rachel Ford is a programmer, and since 8:00 to 5:00 doesn't provide enough opportunity to bask in screen glare, she writes in her spare time. She was raised a very fundamentalist Christian, but eventually "saw the light." Rachel's personal blog is Rachel's Hobbit Hole, where she discusses everything from Tolkien to state politics.


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