12 July 2014

I will go to jail. . .

Below is an excerpt from the Diocese of Baton Rouge's public response to the LA Supreme Court's recent ruling on a civil lawsuit filed against the diocese and a BR priest:

The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the seal of confession preempted the Civil Court from ordering the priest to testify as to whether or not there was a confession and, if so, what the contents of the confession revealed. The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit dismissed the case against both Fr. Bayhi and the Catholic Church of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

A Writ of Certiorari was filed by the plaintiffs to the Supreme Court of Louisiana. The Supreme Court of Louisiana granted the Writ, reversed and vacated the First Circuit Court of Appeals judgment, in its entirety, reinstated the judgment of the trial court, and remanded for further proceedings in the District Court to hold a hearing concerning whether or not there was a “confession.” We contend that such a procedure is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the U. S. Constitution. The Supreme Court of Louisiana cannot order the District Court to do that which no civil court possibly can—determine what constitutes the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the Catholic Church. Indeed, both state and federal jurisprudence make clear that there is no jurisdiction to adjudicate claims that turn upon such purely religious questions.

A foundational doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church for thousands of years mandates that the seal of confession is absolute and inviolable. Pursuant to his oath to the Church, a priest is compelled never to break that seal. Neither is a priest allowed to admit that someone went to confession to him. If necessary, the priest would have to suffer a finding of contempt in a civil court and suffer imprisonment rather than violate his sacred duty and violate the seal of confession and his duty to the penitent.

This is not a gray area in the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. A priest/confessor who violates the seal of confession incurs an automatic excommunication reserved for forgiveness to the Apostolic See in Vatican City, Italy.

In this case, the priest acted appropriately and would not testify about the alleged confessions. Church law does not allow either the plaintiff (penitent) or anyone else to waive the seal of confession.

Attempts by secular authorities to force priests to violate the seal are increasing in both number and intensity. This is a direct attack on Christ's Church

The Enemy is trying to destroy the confessor-penitent relationship so that Catholics will be hesitant to make frequent use of the sacrament. 

In the current atmosphere of militant secularism and in the animosity of the current administration in D.C. to the Church, these attempts to force priests to violate the seal may find an eager assistant. 

Keep in mind: even though this attempt to undermine the sacrament will likely fail, there will be another attempt and another. The Enemy is perfectly happy with tiny victories and small advances. Each quarter-step makes the next step that much easier.

Pray for your priests!

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  1. Certainly I shall pray for all our priests.

    I shall also encourage our architects to design confessionals that provide anonymity. I like going to Confession in the Byzantine fashion, but for the ability to say "I cannot state if I heard a confession from this man" there's nothing like the closet like booths I grew up with.

    1. This whole sad episode makes me want to direct penitents to use the screen rather than confess face-to-face. Behind the screen confessions allow the confessor to truthfully deny knowing who said what.

    2. Fr Joseph Mack8:49 AM

      A good point. I've found myself insisting on the screen rather than face to face much more directly of late. These current events in La only reinforce that.

  2. Anonymous6:10 AM

    I use the screen/grill and I still know who the priest is so I don't see it preventing this from happening.

    What I would like to hear, esp from priests, is how they would handle difficult confessions, esp with children. That's what I want to hear.

    I don't see the ruling as forcing him to break the seal. It was in answer to a motion by the Diocese to prevent the girl from saying anything about what was said in her confession. We, penitents, can do that. IMO, it was lousy to allow the legal team to do that.

    I understand the Diocese is afraid. It is evident in their statement. Be not afraid.

    1. I'm not sure what you mean by "difficult confessions." Confessions are for the penitent to confess his/her sins. Not the sins of others. Sometimes, while confessing your own sins, you might mention the sins of another. . .but that's entirely irrelevant to your confession.

      As I understand the case, the court has ruled that the priest must confirm or deny the content of the girl's confession. To do this, the court has presumed to define -- for the Church -- what constitutes the sacrament of confession.

      It is true that a penitent can reveal the contents of his/her own confession. . .but the confessor may never do so.

  3. Anonymous7:07 AM

    The Diocese filed a motion for the girl not to be able to speak or mention what was said in the confession. That is what the LA SP ruled on. They said she can speak of what was said in the confession and the priest can not make her be quiet to protect himself.
    We can speak of what was said in our confessions which was why it was surprising they took this legal angle.
    They also ruled, mixed and will be determined by factfinder, if it was heard in a confession. I have no doubt the diocese will call experts after her testimony to say, yay or nay. It doesn't say he has mention anything at all and includes if he heard outside the confession, that it would have triggered him to report under law as he is a mandated reporter, outside of what is heard in a confession.
    Because the parents, and possibly girl, are confused as to what her confession was, parts of it was under seal other parts not, or that is what is being claimed, is why they have to go this route. That is what I would call a difficult confession and where I would like the church to speak that they are teaching the priests that if someone comes in for confession, and in the course reveals something like abuse, this is how they will respond, This is serious, you did nothing wrong, but I need to speak with you outside the confession.

  4. Anonymous7:14 AM

    "Shortly before trial was scheduled to commence
    in the present matter, the Church filed its motion in limine, seeking to prevent the plaintiffs from
    “mentioning, referencing, and/or introducing evidence at trial of any confessions
    that may or may not have taken place” between plaintiffs’ minor child and the
    priest, while the priest was acting in his official capacity as a Diocesan priest and
    hearing confession from his parishioner. The trial court denied the motion, finding
    the testimony of the minor child regarding the confession was relevant and,
    certainly, as the holder of the privilege, she was entitled to waive it and testify.
    However, the trial court “did recognize the conundrum with which [the priest] is
    presented, and I know his solution to that is going to be that he is not going to say
    anything about any confession.”

    That is from the ruling. The Diocese is the one who wanted to prevent her from speaking in any form at all about what was said in her confession. I am not surprised they ruled like they did but surprised the Diocese did that.

    1. Having read the SC ruling. . .the issue is complicated by the question of when she was in confession and when she was in counseling. The Court is ordering the lower court to determine the difference btw confession and counseling. To do this, the lower court has to decide what constitutes "confession" for the Catholic Church. The reporting laws are clear about when a reporter has to report. The Church is clear that a priest may never violate the seal of confession. This includes even acknowledging that a confession took place with a particular penitent. The diocese moved to suppress the alleged confession as evidence b/c the priest would have to acknowledge that a confession took place. The girl can say whatever she wants about the alleged confession. The priest cannot. IOW, unless he violates the seal the priest cannot defend himself against any criminal charges. And the lower court cannot distinguish btw confession and counseling unless the priest acknowledges that a confession took place. . .thus, The Court is violating a basic tenet of religious liberty.

  5. Anonymous6:30 AM

    So, you are saying by that ruling that the lower court would have to call him to the stand? That they could not call expert witnesses to establish that it was a confession?
    I am still not surprised how they ruled because we can speak of our confessions.

    1. To establish a general distinction, any expert would do; however, the case is against the diocese and the priest. The parents are suing him b/c he didn't report the alleged abuse. The only way to determine whether or not he should've reported anything is for him to divulge what was said (if anything) in the confessional.

  6. Anonymous7:01 AM

    On your law books, LA, it is there respecting confession. It seems to me that if they try to call him to the stand, and not accept another route, expert witness stating it is indeed a confession, it goes to LA SP, they would have to rule in favor of the priest not having to say anything.
    This is only case because of the confusion. Given the horrible catechisis we have gone through, I am not surprised that someone could not fully understand what was a confession.

  7. Anonymous7:58 AM

    I guess sometimes it is best to put our efforts, including anxiety, to prayer for all.
    When I read the SP ruling, which is in response to their motion to keep her testimony about her confession from being admitted, I take the waive as her own right to talk because they then later say that her testimony can be admitted.
    They say it is mixed - if he heard outside it would trigger the automatic duty to report. I don't see it where he has to take the stand at all.
    I pray he doesn't go to jail.
    I don't see it the same way the Diocese does, but will use my time to pray for all.
    If the Church doesn't want us to be able to speak of our own confession, I just wish they would do something internally first, not make this the first example since it involves an abuse victim.