A priest has no duty to report confidential information heard during a sacramental confession, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled Friday in a bid to clear up what it called the “widespread confusion” caused by its decision two years ago in a long-running case involving the Roman Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge.
The diocese had warned after the 2014 ruling that the sanctity of the confessional was under attack by the ruling the church said might force a priest to reveal in court what was privately told to him.
The case involves a young woman who claims she told a Baton Rouge-area Catholic priest that a longtime church parishioner was sexually abusing her when she was 14 but the priest did nothing to stop or report the alleged abuse.
In a 2014 ruling in the case that resuscitated Rebecca Mayeux’s lawsuit against the Baton Rouge Diocese and the Rev. Jeff Bayhi, the state Supreme Court said a dispute remained “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.
The Supreme Court on Friday conceded that it never “conclusively determined” whether a priest, in administering sacramental confession, is a mandatory reporter of child abuse under provisions of the Louisiana Children’s Code. Such a determination would make priests subject to the mandatory duty to report under the code.
“Any communication made to a priest privately in the sacrament of confession for the purpose of confession, repentance, and absolution is a confidential communication ... and the priest is exempt from mandatory reporter status ...” the high court decreed Friday.
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