Catholic ‘seal of the confessional’ upheld as religious liberty issue

A Louisiana judge has ruled that a state law requiring clergy to report child abuse or other crimes learned in the confessional is unconstitutional because it infringes on religious liberty.

At issue is a long-running case involving Rebecca Mayeaux, a 22-year-old who claims that when she was 14 she told Fr. Jeff Bayhi, a Catholic priest, during confession that a church member was abusing her. Mayeaux claims Bayhi told her to “sweep it under the rug.”

In his testimony, Bayhi told state District Judge Mike Caldwell that he had no choice but to keep Mayeaux’s allegations private because of the inviolability of the seal of the confessional.

Caldwell agreed and ruled Feb. 26 in favor of Bayhi.

Confession is a Catholic sacrament in which a penitent recounts his or her sins privately to a priest, who then absolves them and usually sets up some regimen of penance, such as extra prayers.

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