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.”
This is a really important victory. There are people who ought to be mandatory reporters, but certain relationships should remain inviolable, including priest/penitant, therapist/client, attorney/client, and spouse/spouse. The only exceptions should be if the person exhibits a desire to continue illegal behavior, which would prevent a priest from giving absolution anyway.
Get your point about the exception, but that would introduce a dangerous grey area. Much better to keep the presumption of law that if a man goes into Confession, he’s presumed to be confessing and under the seal. I also agree that the spouse/spouse relationship should be restored as inviolable.
I don’t think we are in disagreement, Tom.
to keep up with things, the issue of cellphones or recording devices in confessionals needs to be addressed.. abuse in this area has already been reported, ranging from pranks onward.
I would say, that a priest does have a big responsibility, to try to help a parishioner, especially if the abuse is on-going! I think that a priest should urge the penitent to please come to see him, at the church (outside of Confession) as soon as possible, and he would be most eager and happy to assist the penitent, with this terrible problem. Also, the priest should urge the penitent to call police!
Actually, I always thought that priests routinely advised penitents to come and see them, outside of Confession, to discuss and take possible action, on reports of possible crimes by penitents– or if the penitent might be in serious danger, even danger of death, due to possibly harmful situations.
My understanding is that if a priest is hearing the confession of a past crime, he is protected under civil law, and prohibited by canon law, from disclosing the crime. But it the penitent discloses a plan or desire to commit a future crime, canon law requires him to approach law enforcement. Am I wrong in that understanding? If a person walks into a confessional and says, “I have a gun and I’m going to murder everyone in this Church”, do we really believe that he doesn’t have an obligation to call the police?
Your Fellow Catholic— I think in years before Vatican II, the Church was strong, and well-respected, and priests were definitely in charge of their parishes– and I think many of them probably found good ways to approach such difficult situations, as you described, above! Also, what if a Catholic confessed that he murdered someone, twenty years ago?? I think a priest would have strongly told the penitent, to see him after Confession! There is more to do, with a crime like that! And also– Catholic women all knew, they had to face tough consequences, for past abortions!
Archbishop Fulton Sheen once explained that the seal of the confessional is total and absolute. If a penitent said that he had planted a bomb under one of the pews, the priest would not even be allowed to go look for the bomb, call the police, evacuate the church. He could not do ANYTHING outside of the confessional based on what he’d heard inside. I don’t know if anything has changed since then.
Larry Northon– Abp. Sheen also had cases in which he strongly advised certain penitents in Confession, to see him after Confession, to settle very serious problems!
A long time ago, before Vatican II, Catholics were always taught their faith, and priests were more involved in their lives. Many were born, raised, and lived most all their lives, in just one town, or even just one parish! Everyone knew everyone else! Priests knew most all of their parishioners! One often would see many priests out on the street, busy out and about, visiting families, going to hospitals, etc. etc. Before the era of pop psychology, priests were often directly involved, helping troubled parishioners, and their families. It was a different world! In today’s era, I do not really know what a priest might do, if a penitent reported a crime! Continued…
Continued… In today’s world, the Catholic Faith is not taught nor practiced so seriously, and priests often do not know all of their parishioners! Up until recently, the general procedure for a priest who was told (outside of Confession, of course) of a crime of a priest molesting a child- was to report to the bishop, who would then transfer the criminal priest someplace else. That was the general procedure Very cruel, to victims! Well, it is hoped that with new and better procedures of today, this situation will be much better, for poor victims!
When I was a little girl, my Mom told me that the church’s famed organist and choir director, was having an affair, with a prominent, pretty (paid) soprano soloist and section leader. She was only twenty years old, and admired by all. She was married to a policeman. Well, I wondered about that. Next thing, my Mom told me, laughing, that the young soprano’s husband went and “scared the heck” out of the choir director, taking matters of justice into his own hands, ordering him to stop seeing his wife– or else! That was that! The choir director was scared to death! He ended the affair. And the soprano kept her job!
A long time ago, before Vatican II, everyone was taught right from wrong. No one in their right mind, would call a “sin” something “good,” as that would be INSANE!! All Catholics, and Protestants, too, used to have some fear of God– and a big fear of Hell! Even those who got to be “smart-alecks,” “too big for their britches!!” You don’t just go on and on and on– with sin!! SCARY!! Yet today, many people in our Church and in society, are accustomed to calling a “sin” as “just something a person decides for themselves.” BIG LIE!! When two married people commit adultery, it is always a SIN!! No matter what day you live in!