Seal of Confession under attack by Louisiana Supreme Court

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I have read with concern and anger that a court in Louisiana has ruled that a priest of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, who had heard the confession of a minor concerning abuse by an adult, can be compelled to break the Seal of Confession and testify in court.  HERE

A lot more of this is coming soon, friends, to a court and diocese near you.

In conflict here are issues of religious freedom and exemption of certain professionals from compulsion to testify (clergy, doctors, lawyers, etc.), on the one hand, and, on the other, statues about “mandatory reporting” of certain crimes (such as child abuse).

The Times-Picayune says:

The Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge has issued a statement decrying a decision by the Louisiana Supreme Court that could compel a local priest to testify in court about confessions he might have received. The alleged confessions, according to legal documents, were made to the priest by a minor regarding possible sexual abuse perpetrated by another church parishioner.

The statement, published Monday (July 7) on the diocese’s website, said forcing such testimony “attacks the seal of confession,” a sacrament that “cuts to the core of the Catholic faith.”

The statement refers to a lawsuit naming the Rev. Jeff Bayhi and the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge as defendants and compels Bayhi to testify whether or not there were confessions “and, if so, what the contents of any such confessions were.

[...]

The Louisiana Supreme Court said in its ruling that the priest’s confidentiality can only be claimed “on behalf of” the confessor, [The terms are confusing here.  In the Church, the "confessor" is the priest, who hears the penitent's confession.  Here, it seems that "confessor" means the person making the confession to the priest.] so he can’t claim confidentiality to protect himself since the confessor [ditto] waived her privilege. It maintains that the confession, then, wasn’t “privileged communication,” so he should possibly be subjected to mandatory reporting laws.

The Diocese is ready to fight this to the US Supreme Court.

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Priests who hear confessions, who hear something in what is called the “internal forum”, understood to be a confidential revelation, may not, must not, reveal what they heard.  This is called the “Seal” of confession.  The 1983 Code of Canon Law of the Latin Church says in can 983 § 1: “It is a crime [Latin nefas is much stronger than just "crime".  Call it "abominable crime".] for a confessor [the priest] in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason”.  The priest confessor must not break the Seal to protect his reputation, to refute a false accusation, to save his own life or the life of another, to avert a crime or attack, or to justice or law enforcement (e.g., reporting a crime).  The priest confessor must not be compelled by any authority, civil or ecclesiastical, to reveal a person’s confession.  A confessor must not reveal the contents of a confession either directly, by repeating what has been said, or indirectly, by some hint or clue or gesture.  The priest must not use the information learned in a confession for his own gain.  He cannot reveal the identity of penitents.

If a priest breaks the Seal, he incurs, automatically, an excommunication (can. 1388).  He is, thus, immediately suspended a divinis.  The censure incurred is reserved to the Holy See.  He can be also “reduced” to the lay state.

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BTW… any person who overhears a confession is also bound by the obligation not to reveal what she heard.  This is also the case for language interpreters who help a penitent and priest communicate.

None of this means that priests can’t ever talk about anything heard in confessions.  If sufficient care is taken to “anonymize” everything and make the details general, examples of moral situations can be discussed, which is important for seminary training.  But care must be taken not to use any example that could reveal the identity of a penitent.

Sometimes a case might arise in which a penitent says that she’s okay with the priest revealing what she said in her own confession.  In other words, she gives permission.  Even then the penitent should repeat to the priest, outside the context of confession, anything she told him during confession.  In that way, the priest could – without question – talk to others about what the penitent said in that second conversation.  The Seal, however, remains regarding the previous sacramental confessional.

Also, if the priest needs either advice about what to tell a penitent, or needs to obtain the faculty to lift a penitent’s censure, he must ask, within the internal forum moment, the penitent’s permission to do so.

Moderation queue is ON.

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69 Responses to Seal of Confession under attack by Louisiana Supreme Court

  1. Scott W. says:

    Enlighten my ignorance please. From the story it seems the confession is not from a perpetrator, but either a victim or a witness. Can a person who makes the confession to a priest release the priest from the seal? I mean, the seal is there to protect the one confessing, right. Can’t he waive this protection? [Read, above, first, please?]

  2. louder says:

    One of the major problems here is that priests train themselves to forgot the confessions that they hear, so if they priest truthfully states he cannot remember, then the state thinks he’s lying — it’s can’t win situation.

    Fr. Matt

  3. AVL says:

    Well, its too bad and so sad for the Louisiana Supreme Court, because they cannot force a priest to break the Seal. [But they can unjustly punish and persecute him.] Priests will follow God’s just laws first, not an unjust law made by man. It is unfortunate that he and other priests will be persecuted for it, and so we must pray for them to be strong. But the bottom line is that the Supreme Court is sorely mistaken if they think they are going to be able to get a priest to break the Seal.

  4. Legisperitus says:

    To think this would happen first in a predominantly Catholic state.

  5. acardnal says:

    I heard Fr. Richard Simon discuss this issue this morning on Relevant radio. He says this is one reason he will NOT hear face – to – face confessions any more. Anonymous confession protects both the priest and the penitent.

  6. Neil Addison says:

    I’ve read the judgment Father (at http://www.lasc.org/opinions/2014/13C2879.pc.pdf ) and to my (English) lawyers eye I don’t see it as quite as bad a decision as it maybe appears from the New report.

    The issue in the case seems to be that the Diocese attempted to stop the girl herself using her own evidence of what she said in Confession. It is hardly surprising that the Louisiana Supreme Court decided that she could refer to it since the privilege of confessional secrecy is hers to waive not the Priest. She can say what she said in confessional as part of her evidence but that does not oblige the Priest to reveal what was said.

    As the Court itself says it is “a mixed question of law and fact” whether the duty of mandatory reporting arose in this case and as I read it that issue is still open to argument however what is not open to argument, at least in civil law, is that a person who goes to confession cannot be stopped from giving evidence about what she said in that confession.

    Not a good decision necessarily but not perhaps quite as bad as reported

  7. Neil Addison says:

    PS I do incidentally agree with the point made by acardnal that face to face confession should be avoided wherever possible. Of course it is not possible to avoid all the time especially in difficult situations which are of course the ones which are most likely to end up in Court.

    Incidentally if what the girl says about the response of the Priest to her confession is true then that Priest would appear to have handled the problem very badly indeed. The girl was not really confessing she was asking for help

  8. Fr. Bryan says:

    Persecution of the Church by the State impossible in America? Can’t happen here because of the first amendment, and the separation clause? Think again. Please pray for bishops, priests, and the Church.

  9. jhayes says:

    Sometimes a case might arise in which a penitent says that she’s okay with the priest revealing what she said in her own confession. In other words, she gives permission. Even then the penitent would have to repeat to the priest, outside the context of confession, anything she told him during confession. In that way, the priest could talk to others about what the penitent said in that second conversation. The Seal, however, remains regarding the previous sacramental confessional.

    The Summa Theologica seems to say that the penitent can allow the priest to divulge
    what was said in the original confession. This is the answer to “Article 4. Whether by the penitent’s permission, a priest may reveal to another a sin which he knows under the seal of confession?”

    I answer that There are two reasons for which the priest is bound to keep a sin secret: first and chiefly, because this very secrecy is essential to the sacrament, in so far as the priest knows that sin, as it is known to God, Whose place he holds in confession: secondly, in order to avoid scandal. Now the penitent can make the priest know, as a man, what he knew before only as God knows it, and he does this when he allows him to divulge it: so that if the priest does reveal it, he does not break the seal of confession. Nevertheless he should beware of giving scandal by revealing the sin, lest he be deemed to have broken the seal.

    The next section goes on to say that even though the Pope could not authorize the priest to reveal a sin told in Confession, the penitent can.

    This text is from the Supplement compiled after Thomas’s death, so it may not be quite as reliable as the parts completed during his lifetime.

    Has the Church taken an official position on this?

  10. Kerry says:

    Notwithstanding (English) lawyer Mr. Addison’s optimism, it is more likely that legislatures will attempt to breach rather than shore up or respect the confessional. For the children, of course. Perhaps the confessional ‘box’ should be called the confessional ‘bedroom’, and then, “Keep you laws out of our bedroom”. (Sarcasm, and cynicism off.)
    What is the Latin for ‘Bring it on!’?

  11. Mario Bird says:

    @ AVL and Fr. Z, on whether the LA Supreme Court can “unjustly punish and persecute” a priest:

    Only to the extent that 1) the executive branch honors such a court order, and 2) the legislature and people of LA condone such arrogance.

    Let us not so quickly discard a fundamental principle of our tripartite republic, to wit:

    “The judiciary may truly be said to have neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment; and must ultimately depend upon the aid of the executive arm even for the efficacy of its judgments.”

    “Judicial encroachments can never be so extensive as to amount to an inconvenience, or in any sensible degree to affect the order of the political system. This may be inferred with certainty from the general nature of the judicial power, from the objects to which it relates, from the manner in which it is exercised, from its comparative weakness, and from its total incapacity to support its usurpations by force.”

    Further, let us not forget that LA’s governor, Bobby Jindal, is a professed Roman Catholic. I’ve heard there are other Catholics in LA as well.

  12. Pnkn says:

    “Scott W. says:
    8 July 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Enlighten my ignorance please. From the story it seems the confession is not from a perpetrator, but either a victim or a witness. Can a person who makes the confession to a priest release the priest from the seal? I mean, the seal is there to protect the one confessing, right. Can’t he waive this protection? ”
    ************
    There ain’t nothing preventing the person confessing from talking to the authorities.

  13. Scott W. says:

    Read, above, first, please?

    Re-read and found the pertinent section. Will remove foot from mouth. I blame my hinky mouse wheel. :)

  14. Choirmaster says:

    louder (Fr. Matt) speculates: “…so if they priest truthfully states he cannot remember, then the state thinks he’s lying…”

    Can the priest even state that he cannot remember? I wouldn’t think so. That would amount to the priest disclosing that he did, in fact, hear the confession. Additionally, from what I understand about our procedure-rich legal system, admitting that he heard the confession could imply the contents of the confession. All of this can amount to a broken seal in a court of law context, if not a strictly canonical context.

    The super-chilling effect here is that a true and good priest can say or do nothing, so (all things being equal) the worst-case scenario is that the priest is compelled to take the witness stand, and is incarcerated indefinitely for contempt as he has remained silent in defiance of the subpoena, disclosing nothing and taking no action.

    After all, the priest is a good citizen of America, but a subject of the King of Fearful Majesty first!

  15. torch621 says:

    Are we supposed to be surprised? There’s been a long history of persecuting the Church in Secular America, why should we be surprised when it starts up again? This country has always hated Catholics, and always will.

  16. Moro says:

    This is a mine field no matter what. Even if the priest was permitted to speak due to release from the seal, etc. What are the odds of him remembering? At some churches, mostly shrines but other places as well, there are priests that spend hours every week hearing anonymous confessions. I can’t imagine they would know enough to say John Smith committed X, Y, Z on or around the date of 01/02/2014. It just doesn’t make any sense.

  17. Seamus says:

    The time seems to be coming when the fact that we aren’t in jail will reflect badly on our commitment to the Faith.

  18. BLB Oregon says:

    As I remember, a similar question came up in the case of an Oregon county jail that secretly recorded the confession of an inmate accused of murder:

    http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2009/tmockaitis_theseal_sept09.asp

    The courts eventually ruled that the audio recording of an inmate’s confession (done totally outside the knowledge of the priest, not to mention without his consent) was absolutely a violation of the priest’s religious rights, but did not go the final step of ordering the tape destroyed. The Church did not elect to take the case to the Supreme Court to achieve that destruction.

  19. Fr. Bryan says:

    “Let us not so quickly discard a fundamental principle of our tripartite republic.” — hasn’t this already happened on so many levels of government? The checks and balances of the three branches don’t seem to do much checking and balancing these days. I’m not prepared to trust that the system will work as intended, since the system seems corrupted in so many places. And isn’t that corruption part of the reason why we are now here, reading about an arm of the government trying to force a priest to testify about a confession, among the other things government has tried to do to limit religious liberty. Anyway, here’s hoping that in Louisiana, you will be right.

  20. wmeyer says:

    Persecution of the Church by the State impossible in America?

    Absolutely not. The sex scandal gave them a wedge. Much the way the cry of racism is used in secular discussions to silence opposition, the sins of the past will be dredged up again and again, to further the goals of the secular hedonists.

    If Obama is followed by Hillary, I see no hope that we may pull back from a societal collapse. And certainly the persecution will increase. The Church is the one true force against these evils, so must be neutralized.

  21. Supertradmum says:

    Pray–and see Catholic Encyclopedia for the rest of this story. Yes, it can and will happen here-America has never been a Catholic nation and has latent anti-Catholicism which is coming to the forefront of our culture and laws. From http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08467a.htm

    “In his ‘Chronica regum Romanorum’, finished in 1459, Thomas Ebendorfer (d. 1464) relates that King Wenceslaus had Magister John, the father confessor of his wife, drowned in the Moldau, not only because he had said that ‘only he who rules well is worthy of the name of king’, but also because he had refused to violate the seal of the confessional. The refusal to violate the seal of the confessional is here for the first time given as the reason for John’s violent death. The chronicler, who speaks of only the one John drowned by order of King Wenceslaus, evidently refers to the John of Pomuk put to death in 1393. In the other chronicles written in the second half of the fifteenth century, we find the reason regularly assigned for the execution of John, that he had refused to tell the king what the queen had confessed to him.”

  22. Titus says:

    The Supreme Court does not hold what Father reports that it holds.

    The Plaintiffs, a child and her parents, sued a Parishioner, a Priest, and the Diocese. The Diocese and the Priest filed a motion before the trial asking the judge to rule in advance that the Plaintiff child could not testify about what she had told the Priest during confession. The basis for this motion was relevance: they argued 1) that the priest had no duty to disclose the contents of confessions, 2) that the priest could not be civilly liable for the advice he gave during a confession, and therefore that 3) the contents of the confessions did not make any fact at issue in the case more or less likely (i.e., they were irrelevant). Irrelevant testimony is not admissible. The Court of Appeals agreed with this reasoning. The Diocese’s motion had nothing to do with testimony, compelled or voluntary, from the Priest himself.

    The Supreme Court did not decide that the Priest could be compelled to divulge the content of confessions. It held (a) that the Priest did not have a privilege that allowed him to prevent a penitent (here, the Child) from divulging the contents of the penitent’s own confession. That is not, precisely, the same question the Court of Appeals was deciding. It also held (b) that a priest could be liable, perhaps, for giving bad advice in a confessional or failing to report child abuse when he had a duty to do so. Louisiana law is quite weird, so I don’t know how off the wall holding (b) is.

    But it did not hold that he is obligated by law to violate the seal: rather, it held that there were “material issues of fact” as to (1) whether the statements at issue were made during an actual confession and (2) whether the Priest learned anything about the abuse from sources other than t he confession. The statutes at issue clearly would require him to report information he learned of under (2), and I don’t think canon law would proscribe that. The statute would also require reporting under the circumstances of (1), but I think the court’s conclusion that (1) could apply here is pretty bogus.

    ["... compels Bayhi to testify whether or not there were confessions “and, if so, what the contents of any such confessions were.... It maintains that the confession, then, wasn’t “privileged communication,” so he should possibly be subjected to mandatory reporting laws.]

  23. Gregorius says:

    Of interest to me is:
    “The priest confessor must not break the Seal to protect his reputation, to refute a false accusation, to save his own life or the life of another, to avert a crime or attack, or to justice or law enforcement. . . ”
    I was talking with someone about moral theology once, and this person heard about a (I’m assuming well-known) theology-manual scenario about someone confessing to having poisoned a chalice about to be used for Mass. The person argued (correctly, it seems) that the confessor would not be able to act on that knowledge gained in the box, not even to privately switch out chalices before Mass begins. My question is, could the priest withhold absolution so long as the penitent does not or will not act to reverse his/her crime? Could the priest do anything to coerce the penitent to stop the crime before he/she leaves the box?

  24. The article reports things the priest is supposed to have told the penitent, and I find them very dubious.

    I am revealing nothing at all when I say that were I to be in that situation, I would certainly encourage a minor child to seek help from adults immediately in avoiding any sort of abuse. I can imagine no situation where I would say, “sweep it under the floor.”

    While I can’t absolutely exclude that the priest in question said these things, I am extremely skeptical.

  25. Christine says:

    We need to step up our prayer and fasting for priests and bishops. This will get much worse before its gets any better. :-(

  26. MarkG says:

    In most cases, a priest is protected by hearsay exclusion. This is a very specific instance.
    The 6th Amendment to the US Constitution disallows the introduction of hearsay evidence in the US Courts. (There are some very limited exceptions to this rule.)
    In most cases, if a priest did try to tell what he heard in a confession, it would be hearsay, and not be admissible in court.
    If they use a screen and the person is anonymous, they are further protected from hearsay exemptions as anonymous hearsay is never allowed in any exemptions.
    In this specific case, the girl who went to confession would be testifying to what she told the priest, which is admissible in court. Note that the girl would not be able to testify to what the priest told her, as this would be hearsay.

  27. JohnMa says:

    As an attorney, the decision is correct as a matter of statutory interpretation. In other words, the LA Supreme Court correctly interpreted the statute passed by the LA legislature. (And let us not forget that LA is the only state that does not have a common law system. It has a civil law system, like France.) The error in the decision is the LA Supreme Court’s failure to recognize that the statute is unconstitutional. Unfortunately, I think the chances of SCOTUS taking this case are zero.

  28. Mario Bird says:

    @ Fr. Bryan:

    I agree regarding the corruption of our system (particularly the obfuscation of the judiciary’s proper role). As a lawyer, I deal with it every day. But mere corruption doesn’t seem like a good reason to jettison our Founders’ principles, or to ignore them so as to embrace the Zeitgeist (pragmatism) wholesale.

    With apologies to Chesterton: the idea of a relatively weak judiciary has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found hard and left untried.

  29. jhayes says:

    Fr. Fox wrote: I am revealing nothing at all when I say that were I to be in that situation, I would certainly encourage a minor child to seek help from adults immediately in avoiding any sort of abuse. I can imagine no situation where I would say, “sweep it under the floor.”

    You would be right to do that under Louisiana Law.

    According to the LA Supreme Court, the law makes a priest a mandated reporter except that he is not required to report information he has a duty to keep confidential but “In that instance, he shall encourage that person to report the allegations to the appropriate authorities in accordance with Article 610.”

    However, as a mandated reporter, he would have to report abuse he learned of outside of confession. The court opinion mentions that the priest had a meeting with the abuser and the abuser’s wife to discuss his “inappropriate closeness” with the child. I guess a trial would have to determine if that indicates he had non-confidential information about abuse that he didn’t report.

  30. Uxixu says:

    Prayers for Fr Bayhi and that the entire Church returns to classic anonymous confessionals to avoid this as a risk. I remember I used to prefer face to face in the dreaded “Reconciliation Room” but now love the anonymous confessionals for their greater solemnity as well as protecting the ministers of Holy Mother Church.

  31. stillkickin says:

    I had expected this to happen in the U.S. but just not this soon. I’m thinking that we are statrting to pick up steam with regards to what Cardinal George said a few years ago: “I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.” The days of people being spectator Catholics will soon be gone.

  32. LeslieL says:

    From the newspaper – “The child testified during deposition that Bayhi’s advice to her was to handle the issue herself because “too many people would be hurt.” Court documents also say she testified, “He just said, this is your problem. Sweep it under the floor.”
    First, I am sorry. I can’t begin to believe that ANY priest would say this. And it is interesting to me that the suit was filed AFTER the accused was deceased. I suspect there is a lot more going on here than meets the eye – as evidenced by who the sued parties are. It is interesting to me that the poor Father can only defend himself by breaking the seal of confidentiality – which he cannot do. So – without meaning to sound, well, snarky – who wants to take a bet that it is settled out of court for a considerable dollar amount?

  33. ByzCath08 says:

    In reading the decision, it is factually correct according to Louisiana State Law. However, the real question that needs clarification is the recognition of the seal between priest & penitent and how the Louisiana law goes against that long standing privilege.

    The diocese needs to hire good legal counsel to argue that the Louisiana law infringes on the priest-penitent privilege and that this violates the religious rights of the priest.

    As others have said, I’m not surprised this is taking place and fear it will only accelerate with the coming persecution.

  34. ByzCath08 says:

    In case the diocese doesn’t win, the phrase I have no recollection of that conversation seems to work well for politicians and political appointees!

  35. Titus says:

    MarkG wrote, “The 6th Amendment to the US Constitution disallows the introduction of hearsay evidence in the US Courts. ” The 6th Amendment only applies in criminal cases, and even there it does not operate in precisely that way; regardless, this is a civil lawsuit. The things that a defendant previously said out of court are admissible.

    Father wrote, in regards to my prior comment: “["... compels Bayhi to testify whether or not there were confessions “and, if so, what the contents of any such confessions were.... It maintains that the confession, then, wasn’t “privileged communication,” so he should possibly be subjected to mandatory reporting laws.]

    That is an accurate quote from the article. But the material quoted in the article is not a quote from the Louisiana Supreme Court; I frankly am not sure what it’s a quote from, perhaps the Plaintiffs’ complaint. The Supreme Court opinion is quite terse, and says nothing about the Priest being compelled to testify: http://www.nola.com/crime/baton-rouge/index.ssf/2014/07/priest_confession_testimony_lo.html. It just says the Priest can’t prevent the penitent from testifying, and that he might have acted negligently if he learned of the abuse outside of confession.

    Maybe this will wind up turning into a very bad case, but the decision actually handed down by the court is not as bad as the news article makes it seem.

  36. Gerard Plourde says:

    This matter really illustrates the maxim “hard cases make bad law.” As Neil Addison observed, one of the issues raised is whether the penitent is prohibited from disclosing her own confession, to which the answer is “no”. Where the matter becomes difficult is that the penitent’s family is suing not only the estate of the alleged abuser and the business he owned but also the priest who was her confessor and diocese for the abuse she suffered. (My guess is that the attorney they retained sees the Church as the “deepest pocket”). Because she is not claiming that the Church has any direct connection to the abuse her case against the Church is weaker. It also appears from the record that the priest had other conversations with the plaintiff concerning the inappropriate contact with the abuser which occurred outside the boundaries of the confessional and which included her parents. We should remember that before any other witness is called she will be subject to cross-examination where her credibility concerning her testimony will be judged. While her claim about the statements made by the priest during her confession that “she simply needed to handle the situation herself, because otherwise, ‘too many people would be hurt’” and that she “Sweep it under the floor and get rid of it” raise a source of difficulty the existence of other non-confessional and independently verifiable encounters could blunt the effect of this without requiring the priest to confront the issue of the Seal.

  37. I am not at all surprised to see an American court attacking the Sacrament of Penance. But there is one thing in which, as a member of the flock, I find reassurance. I have known some nutty, loony and downright bad priests in my day: priests who butchered the Mass; priests who quoted New Age authors and denounced teachings of the Faith from the pulpit; priests who hated Latin and the traditional Mass; priests who neglected their duties; priests who turned out to be guilty of gravely misconducting themselves in their private lives. But I don’t believe I have never met a single one who would not willingly go to jail rather than violate the sacramental seal.

  38. Cantor says:

    stillkickin -

    I fear that the spectator Catholics will still be here — seated all around the Coliseum.

  39. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    “Stillkickin”:

    Thank you for the last part of the comment by Cardinal George. It was the one part of the comment I didn’t know.

    Cardinal George will have be soon to shuffle off this mortal coil, or he’ll be dying in prison.

    St. Michael the Archangel, pray for us.

    St. John Fisher, pray for us.

    St. John Vianney, patron of priests, pray for us.

    Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

  40. jhayes says:

    The diocese of Baton Rouge has published a statement that says:

    Church law does not allow either the plaintiff (penitent) or anyone else to waive the seal of confession

    HERE

    Does anyone know what Church law they are referring to?

    If you are a priest sitting in court and the opposing counsel has just asked you to confirm that you have received a letter from his client releasing you from confidentiality about her confession, it will be important for you to know if church law accepts that that letter does release you from the seal of confession or whether you must still refuse to testify and go to jail for contempt of court.

  41. AndyMo says:

    The Supreme Court did not decide that the Priest could be compelled to divulge the content of confessions. It held (a) that the Priest did not have a privilege that allowed him to prevent a penitent (here, the Child) from divulging the contents of the penitent’s own confession. That is not, precisely, the same question the Court of Appeals was deciding. It also held (b) that a priest could be liable, perhaps, for giving bad advice in a confessional or failing to report child abuse when he had a duty to do so.

    This is still massively problematic. Since a priest is unable to agree with or defend himself against anything said by the penitent lest he break the seal, using that testimony against him is unsubstantiated hearsay and shouldn’t be used anyway.

  42. jhayes says:

    Most states have laws like Louisiana’s

    In 38 states the penitent holds the privilege
    In 11 states the priest holds the privilege
    In 2 states both hold the privilege.

    HERE – page 1135

  43. Salvelinus says:

    If there is one thing that adds insult to injury of this clear looming persecution of Catholics… wow, there are too many lawyers in the world (by a sampling of the lawyers present reading Fr. Zs blog)

  44. Monica says:

    Law enforcement was involved at some point (the alleged abuser was under investigation when he died).
    The plaintiff’s parents were informed and involved at some point, with their daughter and the accused present at ‘meetings’. Which ‘ mandated reporter’, or other person/s, called these meetings?
    Very little journalism is being committed here.
    We can’t expect those outside the Church to understand the importance of the seal; for at least 60 years now, the Church herself has done a lousy job of defending/ promoting the Sacrament of Confession. Things are moving quickly, however, and this case really does provoke my cynicism. The plaintiff’s case ought to bring many questions to mind (I only mentioned a bare few). It won’t, because people have been trained to be rather stupid.
    The seal is under attack, yes. The ‘honest pagans’ of a free press are pretty much gone, and there will be no help from that quarter. But I do have confidence that our priests, our bishops (mostly- there will be betrayals) and our Pope will uphold the seal.
    In the meanwhile we have the very tiresome tasks of teaching critical thinking, and of making our support of the seal loud and clear- inside the Church and outside to the world.

  45. marcpuckett says:

    As Mr Addison and Titus and JohnMa suggest, perhaps this isn’t a straightforward case wherein the prosecutor will attempt directly to break the seal. Even if this is the case, however, the enemies of the Church will use their victory, if they get one, to push harder, and to push elsewhere. Those people would like nothing better than to be able to gloat 24/7 that they’ve forced a priest to jail. Even worse if they can railroad him there on account of a contestable point of law.

  46. Nan says:

    We had a recent case in MN where the mother of the victim, upon learning her child had been abused by a priest, rather than going to the police, went to the priest in confession. Later, there was discussion of whether the priest, in fact, had acted properly under the law for mandated reporters, when he was released from the seal. What was never clear to me was why the mother didn’t report it herself; granted I’m only going by the newspaper but it seemed like there was a delay of several days that could’ve been avoided had she picked up the phone and called the cops. I can’t imagine my parents not calling the cops if there was something that serious to be reported.

  47. Bea says:

    Whatever happened to the cry of: “separation of Church and State”?
    The court is interfering with the vows of a priest in the performance of a Church Sacrament.
    Compliance with this ruling is completely out of the question.

    The court could request a statement, which of course, the priest should not comply with .
    If the judge is not a Catholic, he would not understand the need of silence in this case, but even in other faiths, though not a Sacrament, confidentiality should still be an issue, here. It was not as if she had just gone in for advise but went as a penitent within a Sacrament.

    Another thing, the girl was 12 years old and that was 6 years ago. Her emotional state and lack of understanding may have made her misunderstand the priest’s advise. Perhaps her guilt and lack of accepting forgiveness and of forgiving herself was what the priest meant to “sweep under the rug” (if, indeed, that was what he said). Also his telling her “to handle it herself” may have come from the fact that under the Seal of Confession, he could do nothing and she should handle it herself by going to authorities (or her parents). Her state-of-mind, age and emotions could easily have led her to misconstrue the advise and/or statements given to her by the priest.

    I hope the Diocese and Priest have a good, holy lawyer to explain the Holiness of the Sacrament of Confession, not just from a legal point of view. The priest, himself, cannot defend himself without breaking the Seal of Confession even if he were to remember what he said word for word.

  48. Chon says:

    I’m wondering: Can an inmate go to confession by writing his sins in the priest’s presence? [Yes.] I would want to do that if I were a prisoner afraid of hidden microphones. Perhaps priests could bring a small incinerator with them when visiting prisons… [Uh huh. Sure. They'll let him do that.... not.]

  49. Unwilling says:

    nefas “unspeakable”

  50. Nancy D. says:

    The reception of The Sacraments presupposes Faith, one cannot deny The Spirit of The Law. Just as one cannot receive The Sacrament of The Holy Eucharist validly if one is not in communion with Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, one cannot be receiving The Sacrament of Penance validly, if one does not desire to make restitution for one’s sins, which would include notifying the proper authorities if a crime has been committed.

  51. Sonshine135 says:

    I find this attack on the seal of confession to be truly frightening. First and foremost, it places our Priests in a no win situation. They either violate the civil law or they violate the law of the church. Furthermore, if they choose to side with the church, I can see all types of anti-Catholic bigotry and resentment being stirred up. I can hear it now, “They aren’t American. They follow the Pope before they obey the laws of this country. Catholics are looking to make America a theocracy like the Taliban.” These are things I normally hear slip out of ignorant peoples mouths already. Also, think of the impact this will have on the laity, many of whom are already skittish about going to confession. Who is going to want to confess if their Priest can be strong armed into revealing what was said?
    Truly dark days are headed for our Republic.

  52. jamie r says:

    You should try reading the opinion, rather than just a press release. http://www.lasc.org/opinions/2014/13C2879.pc.pdf

    The Diocese filed a motion seeking to prevent the penitent from testifying about what she and the priest said during confession. The trial court inappropriately granted that motion. The Supreme Court of Louisiana overruled the trial court. The Supreme Court also remanded the question of whether the priest had knowledge from outside confession that would trigger his duty as a mandatory reporter. Nothing in the Supreme Court’s opinion suggests that the priest can be compelled to testify (i.e., receive contempt sanctions) about the contents of confession.

  53. jamie r says:

    Sorry, I was slightly mistaken. It was the appellate court, not the trial court that improperly granted the motion to exclude the penitent’s

  54. Nancy D. says:

    Nothing precludes the priest from instructing the penitent, if he has broken a just law, to confess his sin to the proper authority.

    http://www.awrsipe.com/Docs_and_Controversy/1962-03-16-Vatican_on_Solicitation.htm

    See #13

  55. Militans says:

    Gregorius says:
    theology-manual scenario about someone confessing to having poisoned a chalice about to be used for Mass. The person argued (correctly, it seems) that the confessor would not be able to act on that knowledge gained in the box, not even to privately switch out chalices before Mass begins. My question is, could the priest withhold absolution so long as the penitent does not or will not act to reverse his/her crime? Could the priest do anything to coerce the penitent to stop the crime before he/she leaves the box?

    ____________________

    I think it’s quite clear that absolution could be with-held if the person is not repentant.

    What interests me though is whether the priest would be required to knowingly celebrate with this invalid matter? (Presumably this would no longer be pure wine if the chalice had been coated with poison)

  56. JustaSinner says:

    So the Catholic Church will win this battle…but then imagine what happens when the local mufti/imam/mosque leader demands the same. Heap big trouble…

  57. krrice1 says:

    Seems like a great opportunity to re-examine the sacrament of Confirmation that many have received but may not have had a chance to express. The Church is calling you to run to the sounds of the guns and defend Her. Call the reps in Louisiana and express your outrage at this frontal attack on the sacrament of confession and the Catholic Church! Times of persecution are great opportunities to make saints and martyrs!

  58. jhayes says:

    jamie r wrote: Nothing in the Supreme Court’s opinion suggests that the priest can be compelled to testify (i.e., receive contempt sanctions) about the contents of confession.

    It’s correct that the only questions presented to the court were:

    This writ presents the issue of whether a party is precluded from offering any evidence of her confession and whether a priest has a duty to report allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated on a minor parishioner.

    So the court only decided the questions it was asked.

    However, in its opinion, the court said:

    if the penitent waives the privilege, the priest cannot then raise it to protect himself as he can only “claim the privilege on behalf of the person,” not in his own right.

    Which provides guidance to lower court judges that if the penitent waives the privilege and the priest is asked to divulge what was discussed in confession, the law will not protect him.

    According to the study I linked in an earlier post, that is the law in 38 states.

    The issue will not come up unless the plaintiff’s counsel attempts to interrogate the priest about the confession – and we don’t know yet if that will happen.

    I think it is important to recognize that this involves only the unusual situation in which a penitent wants the priest to testify as to what was said in Confession. However it turns out, it won’t allow the police or courts to force a priest to reveal information about a confession except in that rare case where the penitent waives the privilege of confidentiality.

  59. Gerard Plourde says:

    @ Militans

    I’m not sure that the answer to the hypothetical to which Gregorius refers is completely accurate. It seems that if the priest silently takes the chalice and washes it to remove the poison prior to Mass that the principal of double effect applies. If asked why he did it he could honestly reply “I perceived it to be dirty.” The answer does not break the seal and the life-threatening danger has been removed. One could even argue that his act preserves the seal since allowing the poisoned chalice to be used would lead to consequences that would raise questions that could put the seal in jeopardy.

  60. Midwest St. Michael says:

    Chon says: “Can an inmate go to confession by writing his sins in the priest’s presence? – Perhaps priests could bring a small incinerator with them when visiting prisons…”

    Simple solution. Write on a small (very small) piece of paper then swallow the list after the Sacrament.

    Gives new meaning to “eating ones words”. ;^) The digestion part, however…

    MSM

  61. jamie r says:

    “The issue will not come up unless the plaintiff’s counsel attempts to interrogate the priest about the confession – and we don’t know yet if that will happen.”

    And if it does happen, and if the trial court imposes contempt sanctions, and if the Louisiana Supreme Court upholds those sanctions, all the outrage displayed above will be justified. I won’t hold my breath.

  62. Kathleen10 says:

    I have heard it said that many priests forget the confessions they heard. In fact, I believe it may have been Fr. John Trigilio who said it on Web of Faith. I hope I’m not wrong on that, but I’m pretty sure it was he who said it. Maybe the really awful things, like the possible abuse of a child, would stand out. Who am I to speculate on how these things work and what God does to help a priest who hears confessions. But it would be tough to prosecute a priest for what he doesn’t remember. I would hope any priest would act in a proactive way to help a child or young person being abused, always. Some of the reported comments by the priest in this case sounded odd, if they were true.
    acardnal said anonymous confessions are better and that seems absolutely correct. far better in most instances.
    There is a point at which law becomes null. Laws are to serve people, not people the law. We have had a first-hand tutorial on ignoring the law from our president and DOJ head, Eric Holder. What they don’t agree with, they ignore. The law is not “the law” as it once was. That is not to say we should all now disrespect the law, not at all, but given the times we are in, slavish adherence to law is possibly not going to help us. We see laws applied in unfair situations, wedding cake bakers and so on, where matters of faith and conscience are involved. For the time being we bear the yoke of unfair laws, until we can put people in office who will change these laws, we must bear with it. But we do not have to cooperate like slaves who have no recourse. At some point the person must decide if adherence to an evil law is a good idea for themselves, or for the big picture, and problem solve about how to subvert such a thing. Priests are not stupid people. I’m sure they can connect those dots and come up with a personal methodology that works for most instances.
    All the while we are planning to get involved in 2014 and 2016 to put people in office who love our country, our people, our history of religious freedom, and most importantly, who respect our Constitution.

  63. SKAY says:

    krrice

    I have already called my Representative’s office — when and if there is a bill–I will call again -along with my Senator’s office and the Gov. office if necessary.

    There are state Reps and Senators who are not Catholic– so some education about the teachings of the Church about the Sacrament of Penance will be important.
    I hope the priests and Bishops in Louisiana will be involved in that.

  64. KingofCharity says:

    Keep it anonymous solves all the issues. To me, this solves all the potential problems.
    Father,
    Could the Church ever mandate a canonical requirement for penance? In other words, if you come to confession with particular sins, there is an automatic penance in order to receive one’s absolution? Through catechesis all good, well formed Catholics would know that this is the case beforehand. Similar to how we handle divorce? In other words, for all acts of pedophiliac sexual molestation, the automatic penance is that one must turn himself in to authorities and confess his/her crime to the police? This would cover our asses with MSM and prevent us from Round 2 of liberal media bullying the RCC and beating us over the head with the mantra: “The Church cares more about its laws and formality and doctrinaire positions than it does the welfare and safety of children . . . .” Seriously though, this is scary and is setting itself up to be a big Round 2 of public persecution. They will falsely accuse us and say, “the Church “protects” predators and has systemically allowed for predators to remain “hidden” and “safe,” not the child.” This is what they will inevitably say, therefore, nullifying our moral authority again. We will continue to lose any and all moral credibility from the gentiles and pagans. They will cease to see any redeeming qualities in Catholicism and will come for our heads.

    Also, I thought canon law forbade giving particular details of victim’s names? Doesn’t the church officially teach that we are not to disclose actual names? Just the mortal sin itself and the number of times committed, if possible? Should the Church just publicly clarify this official stance?

    To be proactive, Church leaders should see “what’s coming” and respond NOW. They should write an updated canonical code for confession that ANTICIPATES radical liberal accusations and nips them in the bud before this turns into another “gay marriage” issue or pedophile coverup issue.
    The liberal mobs are only getting louder, braver, and angrier . . . we are on the cusp of a revolution that is dividing America.

    We need something in writing fast, a canonical code that shows we have BOTH protected the Seal and are thinking about child safety:
    -Must be anonymous
    -Must not disclose the names of any victims (stick to the sins and number of times)
    -Mandated penance of turning oneself in to authorities if pedophiliac molestation is the sin, similar to how divorcees can’t receive Communion. You know the consequences ahead of time before you commit the sin. If you rape a child, you are excommunicated unless you turn yourself in . . . If you are really sorry for sexually hurting a child, then you must accept the legal and civil consequences or else no absolution . . . .

    Our heads are going to roll on this one . . . . damnit. Be prepared to die.
    Our first Revolution was really just the British Revolution since it was Brits rebelling against their own Crown. The real American Revolution is coming and it will be bloody like the French and Russian revolutions. Prepare to die Catholics. . . it’s coming.

  65. Militans says:

    Kathleen10 says: I have heard it said that many priests forget the confessions they heard.

    I used to volunteer with the Samaritans (http://www.samaritans.org/), a UK & Ireland suicide helpline. These calls were often in excess of 40 minutes, yet I used to forget the conversations almost as soon as I put down the phone – I had to make notes to fill in the log! (a log – of sex/over or under 18/’name’ given/level of despair/if an ambulance was called/general description of issues discussed – is kept to identify repeat callers who need a care plan, and also to compare callers to suicide data to improve advertising of the service) Samaritans also provide face-to-face and email support, and whilst I wrote some emails I never did any face-to-face outside of training sessions (although met some when others counselled them and I brought in tea etc).

    It was quite bad because we would discuss the calls to see if we were disturbed by them / needed any support at the end of the shift – I had to check the log to remember the calls! In occasional training sessions we might discuss difficult calls with others to get advice – I really struggled to recall any calls, whereas others even told about how they stayed up crying for hours after some shifts. If I knew it was confidential – it was like my mind just wiped it.

  66. Gail F says:

    The “keep it anonymous” comments make no sesns in this case.
    I have no idea how big the Baton Rouge parish is but I live in a small parish. There is no way that my pastor would not know the identity of one of the few preteen girls in the parish, or “forget” if she told him that she was being fondled and text-stalked by a prominent man in the parish. Confession box or not, he’s going to know.
    Moreover, the priest met with the accused man and his wife, and with the girl’s parents.

    KingofCharity: I know what you are trying to do, but please. Tell some weeping or terrified 12-year-old girl NOT to mention the name of the guy she says is fondling, kissing, and sending her “seductive” messages? I don’t see that working in real life.

  67. mrshopey says:

    @ Neil, do you know why the Diocese objected in the first place (objected to her stating what was said in the confessional)?

  68. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Fr. Z wrote, “A lot more of this is coming soon, friends”.

    Chris Sugden writes of the C of E General Synod meeting of 11 July, “An issue that emerged in a meeting of the clergy and bishops of the Province of Canterbury was whether new Guidelines for the Professional Conduct of the clergy should or should not require clergy to report to the authorities confessions of child abuse given under the seal of the confessional. Further the current draft guidelines while ruling against marital infidelity do not clearly state that chastity is required of single clergy.”

  69. TMLutas says:

    The outrage is misplaced. The cure for this situation is in the legislature, not the courts. By venting on the court we make it less likely that a real and durable solution is adopted. Where is the model legislation that would offer real protection for the seal? Who has introduced a bill and what is the bill number?

    Harrumph at the court is not an answer. It is an evasion of our responsibility as citizens.