Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Diocese Objects To Louisiana Supreme Court Decision On Priest-Penitent Privilege

The Baton Rouge (LA) Advocate reported yesterday on the Louisiana Supreme Court's per curiam opinion and a concurrence in Parents of Minor Child v. Charlet, (LA Sup. Ct., April 4, 2014), a clergy sex-abuse case decided three months ago but only now receiving attention. As summarized by The Advocate:
The case involves a young girl who claims she was sexually abused by a now-deceased church parishioner but that her confession to a local priest fell on deaf ears.
The decision resuscitates a five-year-old lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Church of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, the Rev. Jeff Bayhi and others, and gave the girl, now an older teenager, the green light to testify and introduce evidence of “her own confession.”
At the same time, the state high court sent the case back to 19th Judicial District Court Judge Mike Caldwell, saying there is still a dispute “concerning whether the communications between the child and the priest were confessions per se and whether the priest obtained knowledge outside the confessional that would trigger his duty to report” sexual abuse allegations.
Yesterday the Diocese of Baton Rouge posted a statement (full text) on its website strongly criticizing the Supreme Court's decision. The statement reads in part:
The Supreme Court of Louisiana ... 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.