The following comes from a November 1 Catholic News Agency article by Matt Hadro:
Catholic priests do not have to break the seal of Confession to report the alleged abuse of minors, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled on Friday.
The Diocese of Baton Rouge, at the center of the case, responded that they were “very pleased” with the court’s Oct. 28 opinion, “which affirms the sanctity of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.”
The case of Fr. Jeff Bayhi, a priest of the Baton Rouge diocese, made national news after he was sued for not reporting the alleged sexual abuse of a child to authorities. The woman who said she was abused, Rebecca Mayeux, claimed that in 2008, when she was a minor, she told Fr. Bayhi during Confession that she had been abused by someone at his parish.
In 2009, she sued the now-deceased parishioner, the diocese, as well as Fr. Bayhi for allegedly knowing about the abuse but not reporting it under the state’s mandatory reporting law.
Fr. Bayhi said he could not testify as to whether the conversation he had with Mayeux even took place, because of the seal of Confession.
According to the Code of Canon Law, “a confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; one who does so only indirectly is to be punished according to the gravity of the delict.”
Louisiana has a mandatory reporting law that an adult, if told of a possible case of sexual abuse of a minor, must report the case to the authorities, even if the adult is a member of the clergy. However, an exemption in the law does exist in cases of “confidential communication.”
Their opinion stated that in cases of alleged abuse of a minor, “priests are not mandatory reporters of information acquired”, so long as their “communication is confidential communication” as described in the state’s law, “the priest in the course of the discipline or practice of that church, denomination, or organization, is authorized or accustomed to hearing the confidential communication,” and if he “under the discipline or tenets of the church, denomination, or organization has a duty to keep such communication confidential.”