BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A judge ruled Friday afternoon that a priest does not have to disclose possible allegations of sexual abuse against a teenage girl that heard during confession.
There is a Louisiana law that says clergy, who are considered mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse, must report privileged information to the proper authorities if a child's physical or mental well-being is in danger. District Judge Mike Caldwell ruled the law unconstitutional as it applies to a case against Father Jeff Bayhi.
Father Bayhi testified Friday during the a hearing in the case saying he would be automatically excommunicated from the church if he ever disclosed what anyone said in the confessional, according to The Advocate.
Bishop Robert Muench released the following statement Friday on district court decision:
In 2009, Father Bayhi and the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge were sued by the parents of then 14-year-old Rebecca Mayeux, alleging she was molested by an older parishioner of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Clinton, George Charlet, Jr., who is now deceased.
Attorneys said three times in confession, the girl told her priest, Father Bayhi, that Charlet touched her and made inappropriate comments. The priest, according to the suit, allegedly told her, "This is your problem. Sweep it under the floor and get rid of it."
But because the counseling took place in a confessional, the diocese contended that Father Bayhi did the right thing and took the fight all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend its beliefs. However, in January 2015, the high court decided not to get involved in the case and noted that "the trial judge must decide whether a priest has a duty to report allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated on a minor parishioner."
The judge also ruled that Mayeux could testify to what she said in confessional. However, her attorneys will not be able to say that Father Bayhi had to report what she said to police.
Previously, the Baton Rouge trial court had ruled the girl's testimony is relevant, but an appeals court reversed that, saying the priest is not a mandatory reporter. The Louisiana Supreme Court later ruled the victim had the right to testify about her conversations with Father Bayhi.