Louisiana court's ruling that Catholic priest testify about confession criticized by Baton Rouge Diocese

The Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge has issued a statement decrying a decision by the Louisiana Supreme Court that could compel a local priest to testify in court about confessions he might have received. The alleged confessions, according to legal documents, were made to the priest by a minor regarding possible sexual abuse perpetrated by another church parishioner.


They don’t know how else to attack the Church.

So tired of these attacks and persecutions.

God give me strength in this world gone astray…

Hmm. Interesting case. There are 2 issues here.

  1. The parents of the minor who was allegedly abused by an adult parishioner claims that the priest who she told about the inappropriate relationship during 3 separate confessions was negligent in his duties as a mandatory reporter under the law. The minor wanted to waive the confidentiality of her confessions to this priest in order to establish the facts of exactly what the priest did know and what if any of it he was required to report.

The Catholic diocese argued that these confessions were confidential and that the girl herself could not discuss it during testimony. The trial court did not agree with the diocese, but the appeals court overruled the trial court in the diocese’s favor. The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the appeal’s court for the reason that, according to the state law, the clergyman keeps the privilege of confidentiality on behalf of the person who sought his counsel. In this case, the girl who made the confessions had waived the confidentiality privilege. Therefore, the clergyman cannot claim the priest-penitent privilege on behalf of the girl in question.

  1. The second issue is whether the priest himself acted improperly and if he and the diocese were liable for not acting as required by law. The diocese argued to the trial court that the priest could not be held responsible for not reporting information he gained during confession, and as a result, nothing about the confessions should be permitted into the court proceedings.

The trial court decided that whether the priest acted properly according to the law was a matter of fact that needed to be determined, and therefore, the girl’s testimony about the confessions was relevant. The appeals court, however, felt differently and decided that the priest was not a mandatory reporter under the law and, as a result, any testimony about the confessions were impermissible in court. The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the appeals court’s ruling. It found that whether the priest had a legal duty to report what he knew to the authorities was a question of fact that needed to be resolved at trial.

The issue is also complicated further by the fact that after these 3 confessions took place the priest in question is supposed to have had “meetings” with the man who allegedly abused the minor and the man’s wife.

The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s ruling and sent the case back to the trial court where these questions of fact and law will be further investigated and then a decision made.

Here is the actual ruling issued by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Interesting twist in the seal of confession, complicated by a confusing web of Louisiana statutes.

In this case the sinner was not the penitent. The victim was the penitent. The priest was asked to grant absolution to the victim, who was confessing because she probably thought she was at fault. But the sinner did NOT ask for confession.

What is a priest’s responsibility when he is informed of a crime, or an anticipated crime, by a third party, when the informant is a penitent? As in, “Father forgive me. I told my brother a horrible family secret and now he is planning to kill our mom, and he said he’ll kill me too if I go to the police.” Or, “Father forgive me. I gave the bank’s safe combination to my friend and now he’s planning to rob the bank, and he said he’ll kill me if I go to the police.”

Is the priest obligated to keep his mouth shut, let the crime go on, and let innocent people get hurt or killed? That seems contrary to God’s justice and mercy.

A priest said that if a person confessed to poisoning the hosts that were about to be used for Mass, the priest has to continue as if he never heard the confession and take the poison himself and also poison the congregation.

The priest could also refuse to use the hosts, etc, etc, etc

In this case the sinner was not the penitent. The victim was the penitent. The priest was asked to grant absolution to the victim, who was confessing because she probably thought she was at fault. But the sinner did NOT ask for confession.

We don’t know if the molester went to confession or not. If he had, and admitted to confessing, then a. that would be an admission of guilt whereby the seal of confession would remain intact and b. the protest can’t divulge anything said in confession by either the victim or molester.

I’m very interested to learn the state supports the position of, “the girl who made the confessions had waived the confidentiality privilege.” This may be an accurate application of LA law, but where in Canon Law would this be true?

The seal of confession is not an issue of confidentiality to be governed by the laws of the land.

The priest can’t even say, “I told her to see me outside of the sacrament,” or, “I counseled her to tell her parents / teachers / police.”

Now: whose idea was it to imply that the (religious) seal was a (civil) contract?

From now on I won’t even joke about what I got for my penance. By divulging that, I could invite questions about what else was said.

Yeah, I usually treat the seal as if it goes both ways. I broke my rule a couple times but for the most part I take the seal of confession pretty seriously. I think the state should stay out of it.

The priest has to act as if he never heard the confession. Therefore, refusing to use the hosts, or etc. etc. are not allowed.

Well, that’s what happens when states have laws that mandate that people in certain roles, like clergy, report potential or actual child abuse. It is also the priest and Catholic diocese who are accused of being negligent when the diocese’s agent, the priest, allegedly knew that some form of inappropriate relationship was going on.

The courts have basically said 2 things: 1) the child is free to testify about what occurred under the seal of confession and 2) the priest is not automatically off the hook just because he says he can’t talk about what was said during confession.

The fact of the matter is that the courts are not going to allow any church to argue in court that private communications between clergy and laity are impermissible when the situation involves a minor who claims that she told a priest about the sexual misconduct and was, allegedly, told that she was on her own.

The seal of confession prohibits a priest from even acknowledging that he has or has not heard any particular person’s confession. He is forbidden from disclosing the contents of the confession even if the penitent should request it. The penitent cannot release the priest from the seal of confession.

The priest will not break the seal of confession. If he disobeys, he will likely be held in contempt of court and spend time in jail until he agrees to break the seal. He won’t. He’ll spend a good amount of time in prison, and God and the Church will have earned another Confessor of the Faith.

I’m not a cannon lawyer, but laws are supposed to be just. The priest could, in total confidence, switch out the hosts without anyone knowing (even the other priests).

So if one priest confesses to another that he’s a rapist, child molester or sexual predator of any sort, the priest hearing the confession is not allowed to report him?

Absolutely he is not allowed to do this.

Unless the disclosure were made outside the context of a sacramental confession.

Of course - I thought this was assumed.

The family should have known and should have taken action.

The testimony of a priest wouldn’t even be evidence against the person who abused her. It is the word of a priest and not evidence.

This is yet another attack on the Church.

Good luck trying to change a sacrament that has been active for 2000 years.

It is Jesus Christ that is there forgiving our sins. He won’t let this case get in the way of forgiving sins of his children.

The Church said that it was prepared to take this to the Supreme court if it needed.

Actually it has to do with someone who apparently goes to that parish. A parishioner. So the case boils down to why didn’t the family reported the case to the authorities in the first place? Why force now a priest to violate the seal of confession?


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