A Louisiana judge has ruled unconstitutional a new state law requiring priests to report sexual abuse that is mentioned in a sacramental confession.
Judge Mike Caldwell made his ruling in a long-running and complicated
case in which Father Jeff Bayhi had been directed to testify about what
a young woman reportedly told him in a confession. The young woman has
said that she told Father Bayhi about being molested by a member of his
parish. Father Bayhi had refused to testify, citing the inviolability of
the confessional seal.
Judge Caldwell ruled that the state law making priests mandated
reporters of sexual abuse was unconstitutional insofar as it applied to
confessions, since it violated religious freedom.
In an earlier phase of the case, the Louisiana Supreme Court had said
that Father Bayhi could be required to testify, because in this case
the penitent had waived the protection of the confessional seal. Church
officials pointed out that the seal cannot be waived, and a priest
cannot reveal the contents of a confession under any circumstances. Last
year the US Supreme Court had declined to hear the case.