Louisiana Supreme Court orders priest to testify about confession

posted at 10:01 am on July 8, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

Many observers misunderstood the Hobby Lobby dispute and others like it as a First Amendment case, but it wasn’t. It primarily related to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), with an indirect reference to the constitutional freedom of religious expression. A case in Louisiana may be the real McCoy, though. The Louisiana Supreme Court has ruled that a priest must testify in a case about what he heard in a confessional — an order that would result in automatic excommunication and damnation, according to the doctrine and canon law of the Catholic Church:

The state high court’s decision, rendered in May of this year, demands that a hearing be held in 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, where the suit originated, to determine whether or not a confession was made. It reverses an earlier decision by the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeals dismissing the original lawsuit filed against Bayhi and the diocese.

The case stems from a claim by parents of a minor that their daughter confessed to Bayhi during the sacrament of reconciliation that she engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with grown man who also attended their church. Court documents indicate the child was 12 years old at the time of the alleged sexual abuse.

A criminal investigation by East Feliciana Sheriff’s Office into the alleged sexual abuse was ongoing when the accused church member died suddenly in February 2009 of a heart attack.

The civil lawsuit in question, filed five months later in July 2009, names the late sexual abuse suspect, as well as Bayhi and the Baton Rouge diocese, as defendants. The suit seeks damages suffered as a result of the sexual abuse, noting that abuse continued following the alleged confessions.

The petitioners claimed Bayhi was negligent in advising the minor regarding the alleged abuse and failed his duty as a mandatory reporter in compliance with the Louisiana Children’s Code. It also holds the diocese liable for failing to properly train the priest regarding mandatory reporting of sexual abuse of minors. Defendants claimed, in addition to other points of law, that only the sexual abuse suspect was liable for the suffering the minor endured.

This case gets complicated for a couple of reasons. While the common perception has been that priests cannot be forced to testify about confessions in the US because of ministerial privilege and the First Amendment, that privilege gets defined by each state separately. In Louisiana, the privilege attaches to the person offering the confession and not the priest. Once the penitent has revealed what was said — or perhaps more to the specific point in this case, alleges to have revealed what was said — the state can subpoena the priest to confirm or deny the testimony. In that sense, it’s akin to the lawyer-client privilege, which can be broken by the client.

On the other hand, lawyers don’t face eternal disbarment for testifying once a client has waived the privilege. Priests do, and face automatic expulsion from the Catholic Church for complying. There is nothing in church doctrine that requires a penitent to keep quiet about what transpires in the confessional, but the canon law is clear on this point. Can. 983 states that “The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.” The punishment for breaking the seal is explicitly noted in Can. 1388: “A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae [by the commission of the act] excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; one who does so only indirectly is to be punished according to the gravity of the delict.”

In this case, the trap is even more complex. The court wants the priest to corroborate the girl’s testimony about the confession. Assuming the priest recalls the confession at all — it was five or more years ago, and priests hear a lot of confessions, and most of them anonymously — he’d have to violate canon law just by talking about it. Plus, if he testifies that the witness is not telling the truth about the confession, he’d be violating the seal of the confessional even more profoundly. Either way, the court would in essence force the priest into betraying his faith and violating his oath or face prison time for contempt of court.

Rod Dreher warns that this is a direct attack on religious freedom:

This is a very serious situation. I take no position on whether or not the priest handled the particular situation in the parish wisely or justly, but let there be no mistake: the seal of the confessional must be inviolable. The relationship between a priest and a penitent can only take place in the security of confidentiality given two both parties. …

Again, I’m eager to learn from lawyers who read this blog whether or not the priest here is likely to go to jail, or if he and the diocese are protected by the First Amendment. God help us all if he is not. Even if the plaintiff is telling the truth about the priest advising her in the confessional to sweep it all under the rug, which would make the priest is a scoundrel, the religious freedom principle at stake here is so important that even a scoundrel priest must be defended.

I agree. In order for Catholics to enjoy the free expression of their faith, they have to know that the confessional is inviolable no matter what issues may be at play. For that to happen, priests — who deserve the same freedom of religious expression as everyone else in the US — have to know that they do not risk jail time for the act of hearing confessions. The interest of the state in this civil lawsuit is far outweighed by the need to protect this freedom, and any restriction on privilege set up at the state level that fails to recognize this should be overturned by federal courts on the basis of the First Amendment.

Note: Hat-tip to Gabriel Malor for pointers on the issues of privilege and state law.

Update: A fair question from the comments asks a hypothetical about a priest who learns in confession about an upcoming commission of a crime. Note that this is not exactly what happened in Louisiana, but it’s still a fair hypothetical. Cathy Caridi, a canon lawyer, explains that while a priest has some options to warn the intended victims, he still cannot reveal what was said in confession:

So what does all this mean for the priest who hears the confession of a person who admits that he intends to kill somebody, or who sexually molests children and doesn’t indicate that he will stop? Priests are faced with such difficult situations more often than we laity might think! What are they permitted to do?

Firstly, of course, a confessor can latch onto the fact that if a would-be murderer or child molester has come to confession, he presumably regrets this action and wants to amend his life. The priest can talk this through with the penitent and try to get him to see what true amendment entails. At the very least, he can explain that he cannot impart absolution if the person does not firmly intend to stop committing the sort of sin that he has confessed. Depending on the situation, he may also be able to encourage the person to turn himself in to the authorities. The priest might even offer to accompany the penitent to the police station when he does this; but in such a case he would still be forbidden to repeat the contents of the person’s confession to others. If the penitent wanted him to do so, it would be necessary for him to repeat to the priest, outside the confessional, the things which he had told him in confession. In this way the priest could discuss the penitent’s situation, yet the seal of the confessional would remain inviolate.

If the penitent is not willing to cooperate, there are sometimes situations in which priests can find ways to help the authorities without revealing the content of a person’s confession. If a penitent has indicated, for example, that he fully intends to kill or harm Person X, a priest may be able to warn the police that Person X is in danger, but without fully explaining how he obtained this information. I personally know of a case in which police received a phone call from a priest, warning them that two teenaged sisters were in danger at that very moment. The police understood that the priest was not permitted to give them more specific information, and simply located the girls, notified their parents, and made sure they were protected. It is quite likely that some horrible crime was averted by this priest’s action, yet he did not violate the sacramental seal-in fact, nobody was really sure if he had learned the information in the confessional or in a confidential conversation outside of it. Once again, such collaboration between the authorities and the clergy happens more often than we may realize.

At the same time, however, a confessor is forbidden to go to the police with specific information about a penitent which he had learned during a confession. If, for example, a person confesses that he is the serial killer who is being sought by the authorities, and the priest recognizes his identity, he cannot contact the police and reveal it. This is true even if the person indicates that he intends to commit another crime. While he may strive to lead the criminal to turn himself in, or at least to change his plans, a priest is not allowed to take this information to the police of his own accord. No matter how difficult it may be, he must keep this to himself. We can incidentally see here one more excellent reason to pray for our priests, that they be given the strength to bear such weighty burdens!

This is akin to the “ticking time bomb” hypothetical that was used extensively in the debate over interrogations of terrorists captured after 9/11. Needless to say, it’s a difficult position for priests, but Caridi lays out the options for dealing with it.

Update, 7/10/14: I’ve updated the link to Caridi to direct it to her own site.


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Comment pages: 1 2

What if that priest had someone come I to his booth and confessed that he had bomb wired to explode in the next hour at a federal building down the street? What law should he obey?

coolrepublica on July 8, 2014 at 10:25 AM

….some retarded person will answer your question.

I just spoke to God and he just called b.s. God says he would rather the people in that building live. And he says hello.

coolrepublica on July 8, 2014 at 11:34 AM

…See! ^

JugEarsButtHurt on July 8, 2014 at 12:03 PM

If the penitent has spoken publicly about the issue/incident, then there is no betrayal in confirming or refuting that public statement. Period. It doesn’t say that they can’t disclose the information. It says they cannot betray the penitent. (Admittedly, I’m no Canon Lawyer – but neither is Ed, nor you.)

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 11:02 AM

What’s said by a penitent to a priest during confession is not “speaking publicly”. Everything said during the conduct of the sacrament of confession is expressly not public…but private. If a priest breaks that privacy, he betrays his oath to God, the doctrine of the RC Church, and the penitent.

JetBoy on July 8, 2014 at 12:14 PM

The Priest can simply claim that his hard drive crashed and that should be the end of it. Hey, if it works for gov’t officials then…

Mahdi on July 8, 2014 at 12:17 PM

I notice this at Wiki:

In twenty-five states, the clergyman-communicant statutory privilege does not clearly indicate who holds the privilege. In seventeen states, the penitent’s right to hold the privilege is clearly stated. In only six states, both a penitent and a member of the clergy are expressly allowed by the statute to hold the privilege.

If Lousiana is a state with an ambiguous statute over who holds the privacy privilege, this case is likely intended to exploit that ambiguity. The state is likely asserting that the accused does not hold the privilege and that the priest is not bound to honor the confidentiality to shield the confession of a victim who was not old enough to consent.

That it was a victim confessing being the victim of a crime (and not the perp’s confession) is likely the key to this case. One can see how thorny it becomes. The girl can’t legally consent and is a crime victim therefore the priest must protect a vulnerable person being subjected to ongoing criminal sexual abuse.

Most clergy confidentiality cases involve Catholics because only they have such absolute traditions concerning it so due to this and their sheer numbers in America, they are disproportionately represented in such cases.

There is little reason why the confidentiality of a underage victim’s confession can be considered a valid objection in the criminal prosecution of her abuser. Even more so when the victim is suing the perp as well. OTOH, being able to compel the priest to break his confidentiality to help the “victim” sue the perp and the Catholic church doesn’t seem to be what is intended by any priest confidentiality laws.

Toocon on July 8, 2014 at 12:18 PM

The laws regarding priests and the confessional are laws of man.

You won’t find either in Scripture.

Bigbullets on July 8, 2014 at 11:48 AM

Doesn’t matter with regards to the law. Doesn’t matter if that religion is “right”; that isn’t what the 1st Amendment protects. It doesn’t protect people who practice the right religion, it protects everyone’s right to practice their own religion.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 12:18 PM

workingclass artist on July 8, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Good thing Catholics don’t put this stuff up to a vote.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 12:26 PM

What’s said by a penitent to a priest during confession is not “speaking publicly”.

JetBoy on July 8, 2014 at 12:14 PM

Criminy, man! The girl has apparently testified in court. That is public in every sense of the word. If I am wrong about that, please set me straight.

The court wants the priest to corroborate the girl’s testimony about the confession.

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 12:31 PM

Criminy, man! The girl has apparently testified in court. That is public in every sense of the word. If I am wrong about that, please set me straight.

The court wants the priest to corroborate the girl’s testimony about the confession.

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 12:31 PM

She spoke in two places. One inside the confessional and one to the court. They are asking the priest about what was said inside the confessional, which he can’t talk about. Can’t.

What if what she said in the court is different than what was said in the confessional? Then, what she said to him in the confessional ISN’T public.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 12:34 PM

This is nothing less than full-out war against Christianity, and the Catholic church specifically. This is an attack on religious freedom. Expect to see priests imprisoned, and later, worse.

SailorMark on July 8, 2014 at 10:37 AM

St Mateo Correa Magallanes was martyred because he would not break the seal of the confessional to the Mexican govenment in 1927.

talking_mouse on July 8, 2014 at 11:22 AM

This confessional Lutheran pastor stands squarely with the priest and the Roman canon law in this matter.

There is no revealing of what is confessed. No exceptions. End of conversation. Let the courts rant and rave. Let hellfire threaten us all. The seal is absolute.

Scribbler on July 8, 2014 at 11:25 AM

PRAYER TO
SAINT MICHAEL
THE ARCHANGEL

St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen..

Saint John Mary Baptist Vianney & Saint Alphonse pray for this priest under pressure from the court to break the confessional seal.

“You cannot please both God and the world at the same time, They are utterly opposed to each other in their thoughts, their desires, and their actions.” – Saint John Mary Baptist Vianney

Vianney came to be known internationally, and people from distant places began traveling to consult him as early as 1827. “By 1855, the number of pilgrims had reached 20,000 a year. During the last ten years of his life, he spent 16 to 18 hours a day in the confessional. Even the bishop forbade him to attend the annual retreats of the diocesan clergy because of the souls awaiting him yonder”. He spent at least 11 or 12 hours a day in the confessional during winter, and up to 16 in the summer.

http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=399

workingclass artist on July 8, 2014 at 12:36 PM

workingclass artist on July 8, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Good thing Catholics don’t put this stuff up to a vote.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 12:26 PM

Indeed…

workingclass artist on July 8, 2014 at 12:39 PM

I believe this could be moot. As stated in the article: Can. 983 states that “The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.”

Note the key phrase – BETRAY IN ANY WAY. If the penitent has “outed” his/her confession it is no longer a betrayal. So long as the priest can keep to corroborating only what the penitent said was confessed and not the actual words then again, there is no betrayal. To meet this criteria the priest would probably have to be in the same room as the penitent related what was said in the confessional, then with the strict permission of the penitent the priest could probably say something along the lines of “I seem to recall words to that effect” or “I believe that is accurate to the best of memory” etc. you get my drift.

What opens the wormy can though is if the priest does testify, it could be to his detriment in the civil suit so he may decline on those grounds alone.

What I fear is if the state recognizes the canons as explicit law, is that not a state endorsement – prohibited by the Constitution?
and
If catholicism is endorsed then couldn’t we be bound to endorse Sharia law or other religious tenets as well?

dkeppner on July 8, 2014 at 12:40 PM

The laws regarding priests and the confessional are laws of man.

You won’t find either in Scripture.

Bigbullets on July 8, 2014 at 11:48 AM

Doesn’t matter with regards to the law. Doesn’t matter if that religion is “right”; that isn’t what the 1st Amendment protects. It doesn’t protect people who practice the right religion, it protects everyone’s right to practice their own religion.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 12:18 PM

Yep.

workingclass artist on July 8, 2014 at 12:41 PM

I would expect most men of the cloth to consider their immortal souls more important than their mortal peril.

NotCoach on July 8, 2014 at 11:15 AM

I would expect most men of the cloth to consider the well-being of their neighbor as more important than a Pharisetical interpretation of Canon Law.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 12:34 PM

If she confessed something different than she spoke in the confessional, then the priest has some pondering to do – is it right to allow a lie to stand and promote injustice? Scripture would say it is not.

As to the two different places, that’s a crock. If the information is the same (or directly contradictory), then the confessional is no longer private in terms of that information.

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 12:42 PM

I think you are using a different definition of betrayal.

Zomcon JEM on July 8, 2014 at 11:33 AM

Pretty much all the definitions of betrayal that I know of are like this:

To prove faithless…
To violate the confidence of, by disclosing a secret…
To disclose or discover, as something which prudence would conceal…

Those pretty much all become moot if the other person blabs their secrets to the world. I’m not really under obligation to keep that secret, if it isn’t a secret any longer.

If the Canon Law truly says that you cannot, under any circumstances – even when the penitent has spoken the exact same information in a court of law, under oathever reveal any information that is spoken to you in the confessional, then the Canon Law is Pharisetical and should be abolished.

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 12:53 PM

What I fear is if the state recognizes the canons as explicit law, is that not a state endorsement – prohibited by the Constitution?

dkeppner on July 8, 2014 at 12:40 PM

You don’t have to recognize Canon Law as actual law to allow that the confessional privilege is inviolate. But, that is why there is a conflict. If Canon Law conflicts with secular law, then the priest should obey Canon Law and suffer the consequences under secular law.

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 12:58 PM

Criminy, man! The girl has apparently testified in court. That is public in every sense of the word. If I am wrong about that, please set me straight.

The court wants the priest to corroborate the girl’s testimony about the confession.

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 12:31 PM

The penitent is free to talk about what was discussed in confession…there’s nothing in Church doctrine preventing a penitent from publicly revealing what he or she said during confession.

But as Ed pointed out, the priest is not free to talk about it, or he would violate RC doctrine, and be excommunicated. Even if it’s only to corroborate witness testimony. For the priest, what is spoken in the confessional stays in the confessional.

JetBoy on July 8, 2014 at 12:59 PM

Gulp.

kcewa on July 8, 2014 at 1:02 PM

I would expect most men of the cloth to consider the well-being of their neighbor as more important than a Pharisetical interpretation of Canon Law.

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 12:42 PM

Great, you want to transmogrify the Confessional to be a branch of the NSA.

Should the priests wear brown shirts and State insignia armbands?

Once the confessional becomes an extension of the police interrogation room, the sinners won’t confess. Today it is child molestation, tomorrow the priests would be posting lists of liars, adulterers and gossipers.

The confessional would be empty – or just the formal check-in station for the local jail – replace the priest with a prosecutor and your dreams become reality.

Reuben Hick on July 8, 2014 at 1:02 PM

The court wants the priest to corroborate the girl’s testimony about the confession.

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 12:31 PM

Why would the court need that in a civil case?

kcewa on July 8, 2014 at 1:04 PM

The petitioners claimed Bayhi was negligent in advising the minor regarding the alleged abuse and failed his duty as a mandatory reporter in compliance with the Louisiana Children’s Code.

Then it becomes a simple 5th amendment case against self-incrimination by the priest.

This case, and decision, are insane.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on July 8, 2014 at 10:31 AM

This bears repeating.

ChicagoJewishGuy on July 8, 2014 at 1:07 PM

It might be wise, therefore, for a police department who deals with a Catholic population to have someone on staff who is expert in canon law and is able to extract information from cooperating priests WITHOUT violating the seal. I’m sure there are all kinds of protocols and ways of getting information without violating the letter of the law.

pendell2 on July 8, 2014 at 11:59 AM

Interesting comment. Apparently it used to be the case that police, paramedics, etc, were trained and familiar with how to work with clergy, but this has disappeared recently. Fr. Z (a popular Catholic blogger) has commented about how he’ll stop when he sees a car accident and ask if there’s any need for a priest — and often all he gets is confused looks. There was a big snafu at the Boston Marathon bombing scene when priests arrived to minister to the wounded and dying but were blocked by the police. Apparently the standard operating procedures and the training no longer include a way to work with clergy.

joe_doufu on July 8, 2014 at 1:18 PM

Those pretty much all become moot if the other person blabs their secrets to the world. I’m not really under obligation to keep that secret, if it isn’t a secret any longer.

If the Canon Law truly says that you cannot, under any circumstances – even when the penitent has spoken the exact same information in a court of law, under oath – ever reveal any information that is spoken to you in the confessional, then the Canon Law is Pharisetical and should be abolished.

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 12:53 PM

You should try that argument with regards to someone corroborating state secrets that have been leaked. “No, Edward Snowden showed this was true, so I can talk about it now.”

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 1:19 PM

Why would the court need that in a civil case?

kcewa on July 8, 2014 at 1:04 PM

The priest and the diocese are named in the civil case. They are trying to make the priest corroborate what the child said so the child/family can get money from the priest, diocese and estate of the alleged perv.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 1:20 PM

If the Canon Law truly says that you cannot, under any circumstances – even when the penitent has spoken the exact same information in a court of law, under oath – ever reveal any information that is spoken to you in the confessional, then the Canon Law is Pharisetical and should be abolished.

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 12:53 PM

I don’t see what it has to do with the Pharisees, but whatever.

The priest is hearing confessions on behalf of God. A person should have the the right to confess his sins to God without the states intervention.

And the person is confessing because his or her religious beliefs require it. The state has no right to pass a law that would make a person reluctant to practice their religion.

kcewa on July 8, 2014 at 1:25 PM

Reuben Hick on July 8, 2014 at 1:02 PM

OK, you’re obviously an idiot. Go away, now.

Why would the court need that in a civil case?

kcewa on July 8, 2014 at 1:04 PM

Corroborating evidence is always important. If I were a juror in a civil case, I certainly wouldn’t trust the testimony of someone with a large amount of self-interest in the outcome. Having said that, it does appear that it might be an attempt to essentially implicate the priest or church in this suit.

For all those with whom I have been discussing this, I’m not saying that this is a cut-and-dried case for him to cough up the confession. I merely wanted to correct what I saw as a mangling of the English language when Ed said that the priest will go to Hell for disclosing the confession – even when the penitent has already made it public*, and there is no longer any secret to “betray”.

If the priest allows injustice to occur because of a Pharisetical interpretation of Canon Law, then he will answer to God.

* By “made it public” I don’t mean that she said “Oh yeah, I confessed some bad stuff to Father Bayhi.” I mean that it appears she said “I did this, and I did this, and I did that, and I told all of this to Father Bayhi on such and such a date.”

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 1:26 PM

It might be wise, therefore, for a police department who deals with a Catholic population to have someone on staff who is expert in canon law and is able to extract information from cooperating priests WITHOUT violating the seal. I’m sure there are all kinds of protocols and ways of getting information without violating the letter of the law.

pendell2 on July 8, 2014 at 11:59 AM

Interesting comment. Apparently it used to be the case that police, paramedics, etc, were trained and familiar with how to work with clergy, but this has disappeared recently. Fr. Z (a popular Catholic blogger) has commented about how he’ll stop when he sees a car accident and ask if there’s any need for a priest — and often all he gets is confused looks. There was a big snafu at the Boston Marathon bombing scene when priests arrived to minister to the wounded and dying but were blocked by the police. Apparently the standard operating procedures and the training no longer include a way to work with clergy.

joe_doufu on July 8, 2014 at 1:18 PM

The first listed victim by name( Father Mychal Judge) of 9/11 was the Chaplain to the NYFD who was killed administering sacraments to wounded/dying outside the World Trade Ctr.

workingclass artist on July 8, 2014 at 1:27 PM

I can assure you, as a Catholic deacon, no priest would ever comply with such an order.

The priest will refuse to cooperate, or possibly say, “I can’t remember,” but would never betray the seal of the confessional, period.

A cleric would rather go to jail than betray this principle.

deaconchris on July 8, 2014 at 1:31 PM

When the Church went to “face-to-face” confession (Reconciliation), the number of people going dropped like a rock. Going back to anonymous confessionals would solve this problem since the priest couldn’t testify since he wouldn’t know who said it.

seven_of_8 on July 8, 2014 at 10:15 AM

The Catholic Church STILL has anonymous confessions. The choice is up to the confessee.

timberline on July 8, 2014 at 1:34 PM

You should try that argument with regards to someone corroborating state secrets that have been leaked. “No, Edward Snowden showed this was true, so I can talk about it now.”

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 1:19 PM

I’m very familiar with that idea. The concepts are very different:
1) Revelation of the confession by the penitent is not “illegal” in Canon Law; revelation of the ‘state secrets’ is
2) The same law that made initial disclosure illegal continues to make further disclosure (confirm or deny) illegal; Canon Law and secular law are not the same
3) The revelation of a confession by the penitent is only generally injurious to the penitent; the leaks are injurious to another party (the initial leaks are more akin to the priest spilling the confession information over a beer at Joe’s – injurious to the other party)
4) If the state confirms the leak and corroborates the information leaked, then all other persons are now released from their obligations, as well (it would require declassifying the information for the government to legally do that, making the secret no longer officially secret)

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 1:34 PM

She spoke in two places. One inside the confessional and one to the court. They are asking the priest about what was said inside the confessional, which he can’t talk about. Can’t.

What if what she said in the court is different than what was said in the confessional? Then, what she said to him in the confessional ISN’T public.

cptacek

Her out of court statement is hearsay. I’m trying to figure out which exception to the hearsay rule applies – there’s no such thing (at least, where I am) as a “prior consistent statement” exception, which – as far as I can tell – is what they want the priest’s testimony for.

BD57 on July 8, 2014 at 1:35 PM

The priest and the diocese are named in the civil case. They are trying to make the priest corroborate what the child said so the child/family can get money from the priest, diocese and estate of the alleged perv.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 1:20 PM

I doubt they need the priest’s corroboration as far as the perp is concerned. It sounds like they’re trying to find a way to hold the church liable.

kcewa on July 8, 2014 at 1:37 PM

I’m very familiar with that idea. The concepts are very different:
1) Revelation of the confession by the penitent is not “illegal” in Canon Law; revelation of the ‘state secrets’ is
2) The same law that made initial disclosure illegal continues to make further disclosure (confirm or deny) illegal; Canon Law and secular law are not the same
3) The revelation of a confession by the penitent is only generally injurious to the penitent; the leaks are injurious to another party (the initial leaks are more akin to the priest spilling the confession information over a beer at Joe’s – injurious to the other party)
4) If the state confirms the leak and corroborates the information leaked, then all other persons are now released from their obligations, as well (it would require declassifying the information for the government to legally do that, making the secret no longer officially secret)

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 1:34 PM

I was going to go point by point on what you said, there, but none if it makes sense or is true.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 1:41 PM

I can assure you, as a Catholic deacon, no priest would ever comply with such an order.

The priest will refuse to cooperate, or possibly say, “I can’t remember,” but would never betray the seal of the confessional, period.

A cleric would rather go to jail than betray this principle.

deaconchris on July 8, 2014 at 1:31 PM

I’m wondering if there ever has been an instance where a priest was jailed for not divulging what was said in a confessional.

JetBoy on July 8, 2014 at 1:42 PM

This is all about attaching culpability to the Catholic church, which has deep pockets. I’m not concerned about the priest’s immortal soul, since confessing to a priest is not biblical, nor is excommunication, but I am concerned about the privilege assigned to discussions between a person and their religious counselor.

Immolate on July 8, 2014 at 10:20 AM

Ah, but it is stated in the Bible. I’m using the King James Bible.

John 20 19:23
19Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. 20And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. 21Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

timberline on July 8, 2014 at 1:43 PM

I don’t see what it has to do with the Pharisees, but whatever.

The Pharisees were all about rules – rules strictly interpreted, regardless of mercy or grace. Jesus regularly hammers them for their narrow interpretation of the law that burdens people instead of freeing them. The phrase “straining a gnat, but swallowing a camel” comes to mind.

The priest is hearing confessions on behalf of God. A person should have the the right to confess his sins to God without the states a priest’s intervention.

As a Protestant, I’ll take my jab here. ;) But, you’re correct insofar as the law is concerned.

The state has no right to pass a law that would make a person reluctant to practice their religion.

kcewa on July 8, 2014 at 1:25 PM

Not entirely true. Even in America, we recognize that certain things should not be allowed, even within the practice of a religion (such as human scarifice). The question is where to draw the line. Interestingly, in America, we draw it mostly along the lines of a Judeo-Christian morality. (Natural Law and such.)

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 1:45 PM

Having said that, it does appear that it might be an attempt to essentially implicate the priest or church in this suit.

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 1:26 PM

The petitioners claimed Bayhi was negligent in advising the minor regarding the alleged abuse and failed his duty as a mandatory reporter in compliance with the Louisiana Children’s Code. It also holds the diocese liable for failing to properly train the priest regarding mandatory reporting of sexual abuse of minors. Defendants claimed, in addition to other points of law, that only the sexual abuse suspect was liable for the suffering the minor endured.

Read more at: http://www.ucanews.com/news/us-court-orders-priest-to-reveal-confessional-details/71361

Come to think of it, I thought the seal of confession was to prevent the priest from revealing information that would be to the detriment of the confessor. Anyone know?

In this case it would be to the benefit of the confessor. Canon law should maybe clarify this? If it’s a matter of canon law and not the deposit of faith it can be changed can’t it, Ed?

kcewa on July 8, 2014 at 1:46 PM

Fine, I am going to do it.

I’m very familiar with that idea. The concepts are very different:
1) Revelation of the confession by the penitent is not “illegal” in Canon Law; revelation of the ‘state secrets’ is
2) The same law that made initial disclosure illegal continues to make further disclosure (confirm or deny) illegal; Canon Law and secular law are not the same
3) The revelation of a confession by the penitent is only generally injurious to the penitent; the leaks are injurious to another party (the initial leaks are more akin to the priest spilling the confession information over a beer at Joe’s – injurious to the other party)
4) If the state confirms the leak and corroborates the information leaked, then all other persons are now released from their obligations, as well (it would require declassifying the information for the government to legally do that, making the secret no longer officially secret)

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 1:34 PM

1. You say that is true, but you are the only one. Priests cannot break the sanctity of the confessional.

2. Same logic as 1.

3. The leak is injurious to the priest. Not because he is in a pending lawsuit, but because his vow is to God to not reveal anything he hears in the confessional. It really doesn’t matter what the girl says or doesn’t say. It isn’t about the girl. It is about the priest and his duties to God.

4. God/Canon Law would have to release the priest from the obligation to keep confessions secret, not a court of law.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 1:46 PM

I’m wondering if there ever has been an instance where a priest was jailed for not divulging what was said in a confessional.

St. John of Nepomuk (14th century) was martyred for refusing to tell the King of Bohemia what the Queen said in confession.

deaconchris on July 8, 2014 at 1:47 PM

Not entirely true. Even in America, we recognize that certain things should not be allowed, even within the practice of a religion (such as human scarifice). The question is where to draw the line. Interestingly, in America, we draw it mostly along the lines of a Judeo-Christian morality. (Natural Law and such.)

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 1:45 PM

I agree, it’s a matter of one right conflicting with another I guess.

kcewa on July 8, 2014 at 1:48 PM

I was going to go point by point on what you said, there, but none if it makes sense or is true.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 1:41 PM

They are all very true, based in logic, reason, and the law. Please point out where you don’t understand, say, why point 1 is true?

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 1:49 PM

Confession is used by all of the Apostolic Churches (Roman, Byzantine, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian, Chaldean), and is protected by the same seal in all of them. Most Lutherans also adhere to the seal.

I think this decision will be struck down very quickly on the Federal level, especially if they take it all the way to SCOTUS. They don’t dare try to pull an Andy Jackson on this issue.

englishqueen01 on July 8, 2014 at 1:49 PM

Can. 983 §1. The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.
§2. The interpreter, if there is one, and all others who in any way have knowledge of sins from confession are also obliged to observe secrecy.
Can. 984 §1. A confessor is prohibited completely from using knowledge acquired from confession to the detriment of the penitent even when any danger of revelation is excluded.

kcewa on July 8, 2014 at 1:53 PM

You’ve got to be kidding me. I can understand the Catholic church excommunicating a priest for violating the sanctity of the confessional. That is the church’s prerogative. But to dogmatically declare that a priest is damned for all eternity? Highly doubtful. I would like to see the scripture reference for that.

HiJack on July 8, 2014 at 11:30 AM

Some things aren’t specifically stated in the Bible, such as Christ going to the bathroom, taking a bath, sleeping…but they all DID happen. Because it’s not in the Bible, are you saying these things never happened?

timberline on July 8, 2014 at 1:56 PM

1. You say that is true, but you are the only one. Priests cannot break the sanctity of the confessional.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 1:46 PM

Try reading it again.

1) Revelation of the confession by the penitent is not “illegal” in Canon Law; revelation of the ‘state secrets’ is

2. Same logic as 1

Huh? No, it’s not the same bit. I’m pointing out that the “state secrets” law is not conflicting with another law. Continuing to keep those secrets is required by the same law that made keeping them in the first place a requirement. The issue of corroboration of someone’s testimony in a secular court of law is not using the same law as the one requiring the priest remain silent. There is a conflict. Hence, the analogy falls apart.

3. The leak is injurious to the priest…

Not in a legal sense. Again, re-read what I said – I said the revelation BY THE PENITENT.

It really doesn’t matter what the girl says or doesn’t say.

Irrelevant to my point, but this is where I am in disagreement with many here.

4. God/Canon Law would have to release the priest from the obligation to keep confessions secret, not a court of law.

Thank you for making my point – this is why your analogy is not valid.

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 1:58 PM

I care little about a self-appointed system that claims to speak for God. ” excommunication and damnation” Nonsense. That is left to God alone.

Having said that, any conversation with your pastor/priest/rabbi/imam should be as privileged as that between cliant and attorney.

davidk on July 8, 2014 at 1:59 PM

And, if a friend of mine came to me and discussed something with me with the understanding of confidentiality, I would not break that trust. The state does not own me.

davidk on July 8, 2014 at 2:01 PM

How about demanding exposing confidential conversations with your LAWYER?
Or perhaps your DOCTOR?

I think the Louisiana Supremes have stepped too far and stepped in it … if you catch my meaning, if you get my drift.
This will be overturned so fast it’ll make a Cajun blush. (made that up)

Missilengr on July 8, 2014 at 2:01 PM

Non-Catholics do not enjoy this “right” when counseling with their clergy.

This is a “right” that is enjoyed by only one denomination of Christianity.

The concept of equal protection under the laws is not applied to non-Catholics who seek confidentiality with their clergy.

Toocon on July 8, 2014 at 10:20 AM

I guess then it sucks to be protestant doesn’t it? If you want that “right” you can be Catholic.

Am I entitled to demand that I be allowed to eat pork and still be considered Jewish?

katiejane on July 8, 2014 at 2:03 PM

Can. 984 §1. A confessor is prohibited completely from using knowledge acquired from confession to the detriment of the penitent even when any danger of revelation is excluded.

kcewa on July 8, 2014 at 1:53 PM

Wow. That pretty much slams all those creative ideas for handling a “ticking bomb” or murder scenario. If the choice is between the “penitent” going to jail or hundreds of people dying, I guess hundreds must die. (And confirms in my mind the Pharisetical nature of this portion of Canon Law in the Roman church.)

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 2:05 PM

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 1:58 PM

I thought you were arguing that once the girl says something outside the confessional, the priest is under no obligation under Canon Law to keep that secret. And so, because of that, he should testify in court because it isn’t against his religion anymore.

I’m saying that no matter what the girl does, the priest is still bound under Canon Law, and so he can’t testify in court because it is against his religion to do so.

I can see that I read your post wrong.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 2:05 PM

I care little about a self-appointed system that claims to speak for God. ” excommunication and damnation” Nonsense. That is left to God alone.

Having said that, any conversation with your pastor/priest/rabbi/imam should be as privileged as that between cliant and attorney.

davidk on July 8, 2014 at 1:59 PM

God DID give man the right to forgive sin through Christ. It’s in your own KJV Bible. You just need to pay attention to WHAT’S STATED in the Bible, not what some man thinks it says.

John 20 19:23
19Then the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. 20And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord. 21Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. 22And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: 23Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained.

timberline on July 8, 2014 at 2:08 PM

(be back later, if you are still here GWB…doctors call)

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 2:08 PM

Can. 1388 §1. A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; one who does so only indirectly is to be punished according to the gravity of the delict.

Does this mean that if he broke the seal to protect the girl his excommunication could be revoked by the Pope?

BTW, excommunication doesn’t mean that you’re going to hell. It just means that you can’t communicate, i.e., participate in the sacraments.

This is from Catholic Answers which is a pretty conservative organization:

Excommunication of laypeople principally means that they are cut off from receiving the sacraments. It does not mean that the Church is condemning a person to hell. In fact, excommunication is intended to be a medicine to inspire people to repent and be reconciled to the Church. Once reconciled to the Church, that person may again receive the sacraments. If an excommunicated person dies without being formally reconciled to the Church, he can be saved if he truly and sincerely repents all of his mortal sins before death. Certainly we may pray that a person in these circumstances be interiorly reconciled to God and the Church through full repentance before death.

kcewa on July 8, 2014 at 2:13 PM

Why can’t he plead the Fifth?

Recon5 on July 8, 2014 at 2:16 PM

Wow. That pretty much slams all those creative ideas for handling a “ticking bomb” or murder scenario. If the choice is between the “penitent” going to jail or hundreds of people dying, I guess hundreds must die.

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 2:05 PM

The choice is actually between hundreds dying OR the Priest breaking his vow of obedience and being excommunicated. I would choose excommunication personally. But them I’m not a Priest.

kcewa on July 8, 2014 at 2:16 PM

Why can’t he plead the Fifth?

Recon5 on July 8, 2014 at 2:16 PM

That would imply that he saw the girl in confession. He can’t even admit that a confession took place.

kcewa on July 8, 2014 at 2:18 PM

You’ve got to be kidding me. I can understand the Catholic church excommunicating a priest for violating the sanctity of the confessional. That is the church’s prerogative. But to dogmatically declare that a priest is damned for all eternity? Highly doubtful. I would like to see the scripture reference for that.

HiJack on July 8, 2014 at 11:30 AM

The RCC gets to decide which rules/dogma/principles they choose without justifying them to non-Catholics. Excommunication is considered to have consequences.

katiejane on July 8, 2014 at 2:19 PM

I’m saying that no matter what the girl does, the priest is still bound under Canon Law, and so he can’t testify in court because it is against his religion to do so.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 2:05 PM

Yeah, that’s where we’re disagreeing. I am saying the word “betrayal” lifts the sanction when it’s no longer secret. And I understand you disagree. (Round and round the mulberry bush we’ve all gone!) My enumerated points were specifically addressing the analogy you made.

I recognize the disagreement. And I respect y’all’s position, btw. I was simply arguing that Ed’s statement about the absolute rigidity of Canon Law based on what he quoted ignored the definition of the words. What kcewa posted does seem to make it pretty absolute. So, my arguments seem moot. Acknowledged.

Given the rigidity, I will stand by my “Pharisetical” accusation.

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 2:34 PM

God DID give man the right to forgive sin through Christ. It’s in your own KJV Bible. You just need to pay attention to WHAT’S STATED in the Bible, not what some man thinks it says.

timberline on July 8, 2014 at 2:08 PM

So the men of the Roman Catholic Church should pay attention to the Bible and not what they say it means.

The verses you cited have been debated for centuries as to what exactly Jesus meant there. Did He mean them for all men? Did He mean them for apostles? Did He mean them for the Holy Spirit?

Or did He mean them for priests?

If the latter then who are the priests? Man-made priests procalimed such by a church hierarchy (not just the RC chruch)?

Peter wrote about who are the priest of God:

Coming to Him, a living stone—rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God—you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
I Peter 2

as prophesied by God to Moses at Sinai;

Now if you will listen to Me and carefully keep My covenant, you will be My own possession out of all the peoples, although all the earth is Mine, and you will be My kingdom of priests and My holy nation.
Exodus 19

and echoed by the twenty-four Elders in song:

You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because You were slaughtered,
and You redeemed people
for God by Your blood
from every tribe and language
and people and nation.

You made them a kingdoms
and priests to our God,
and they will reign on the earth.
Revelation 4

The notion of a professional class of pastors/priests is not a Biblical teaching. I don’t think it is necessarily un-Biblical and the “workman is worthy of his hire.”

But to claim a certain class of men have privileges the other saints do not possess (yes, all Christians are saints), is not a healthy system.

davidk on July 8, 2014 at 3:00 PM

What if that priest had someone come I to his booth and confessed that he had bomb wired to explode in the next hour at a federal building down the street? What law should he obey?

coolrepublica on July 8, 2014 at 10:25 AM

Hey, you could… I don’t know… try READING before you post a hypothetical already covered.

If a penitent has indicated, for example, that he fully intends to kill or harm Person X, a priest may be able to warn the police that Person X is in danger, but without fully explaining how he obtained this information. I personally know of a case in which police received a phone call from a priest, warning them that two teenaged sisters were in danger at that very moment. The police understood that the priest was not permitted to give them more specific information, and simply located the girls, notified their parents, and made sure they were protected.

There is the bit you need, since reading the entire thing was just too much for your tiny brain to manage.

I just spoke to God and he just called b.s. God says he would rather the people in that building live. And he says hello.

coolrepublica on July 8, 2014 at 11:34 AM

Maybe you could have God help you with your reading and comprehension skills as well? Or does he not actually help you with anything useful and just gives you sarcastic idiocy?

Maybe that isn’t God you’re talking to, given that you’re clearly not capable of rational comprehension. The guy on the street corner looking for a handout might claim he’s god… but I think he might be lying to you.

Just a thought, since you seem to have comprehension issues, some assistance seemed in order.

gekkobear on July 8, 2014 at 3:22 PM

If Canon law is meant to protect the penintent from betrayal of the substance of his confession, and the penitent in question is now in court speaking publicly of the same confession – why are the priest and diocese precluded from either gaining or assuming permission from the penitent to do the same?

Canon law seems to be based on *betrayal of a confidence. This could be circumvented by gaining the *permission to speak, no? If the penitent gives that permission, the 1A question becomes superfluous and the focus would then be back on the case, diocese or Bayhi’s alleged obligation to report, which according to the opinion of the judge seems to based on whether he heard of this abuse from within the confessional or without. I say “seems”, as the last few comments in the opinion that addressed that disclosure more or less fell out of the sky.

http://search.lasc.org/isysquery/a419892a-6af8-48af-baff-5cc6b6d3c0ba/8/doc/13C2879.pc.pdf#xml=http://ISYS01.LASC.ORG/isysquery/a419892a-6af8-48af-baff-5cc6b6d3c0ba/8/hilite/

Recon5 on July 8, 2014 at 3:34 PM

I just spoke to God and he just called me b.s.
coolrepublica on July 8, 2014 at 11:34 AM

FIFY.

#BuckFarack

Nutstuyu on July 8, 2014 at 3:57 PM

I do not see it as that complicated.

The priest should say nothing. Just refuse to answer.

Let the Louisiana Supreme Court do as it wants, I doubt they will be worse than Communists or Nazis were to Catholic Priests.

Evi L. Bloggerlady on July 8, 2014 at 4:11 PM

The purpose of this is for the Godless state to drive a stake into the heart of the Sacramentally based Catholic Church….condoms and abortificients notwithstanding.

Don L on July 8, 2014 at 4:20 PM

This is beyond stupid. Nothing is more inconvenient than letting killers and rapists back on the street on “technicalities”. We don’t do that because it’s “clean” or “efficient” we do that because other people’s rights create a burden for our observance.

We used to understand these things. Lately, the first express right in the Bill of Rights is conditional based on how convenient or efficient it is for people who have no respect for your religious choice.

People cried over the Hobby Lobby case that things could get complex and hairy as a result–as if letting killers back onto the streets to kill again isn’t a kinda pronounced example of an imposition based on another’s Constitutional rights.

Tell the guy, on his way to bake a compulsory cake for a gay wedding, who gets shot because we had to let a killer back out onto the street, that we can’t have anarchy, fercryinoutloud!

It’s just another way that even we, as part of the general populace, have been suckered into accepting the trade-offs libs prefer.

Axeman on July 8, 2014 at 4:35 PM

Can. 1388 §1. A confessor who directly violates the sacramental seal incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See; one who does so only indirectly is to be punished according to the gravity of the delict.

Does this mean that if he broke the seal to protect the girl his excommunication could be revoked by the Pope?

BTW, excommunication doesn’t mean that you’re going to hell. It just means that you can’t communicate, i.e., participate in the sacraments.

This is from Catholic Answers which is a pretty conservative organization:

Excommunication of laypeople principally means that they are cut off from receiving the sacraments. It does not mean that the Church is condemning a person to hell. In fact, excommunication is intended to be a medicine to inspire people to repent and be reconciled to the Church. Once reconciled to the Church, that person may again receive the sacraments. If an excommunicated person dies without being formally reconciled to the Church, he can be saved if he truly and sincerely repents all of his mortal sins before death. Certainly we may pray that a person in these circumstances be interiorly reconciled to God and the Church through full repentance before death.

kcewa on July 8, 2014 at 2:13 PM

Excommunication is a serious matter.

Interesting interview on the subject of excommunication with a prominent canon lawyer…excerpt:

” IgnatiusInsight.com: Do you have a simple definition of “excommunication”?

Peters: Yes. Excommunication is the most serious censure the Catholic Church imposes on her members. Excommunication has roots deep in ecclesiastical history, and it is still applied, in fact increasingly applied, today. But it’s more than a penalty for past actions; it’s really an urgent call to reform one’s conduct in the future. Excommunication is classified as a “medicinal penalty” by the Church precisely because its main purpose is to bring about reform in the individual. Having certain actions punished by excommunication demonstrates that certain actions are gravely wrong in themselves and cause deep harm both to their perpetrators and to others.

IgnatiusInsight.com: Is it correct, in your opinion, to say that the topic of excommunication is the most misunderstood and misrepresented topic that canon lawyers have to deal with? Or do annulments give excommunication a run for the money?

Peters: Annulment questions are posed more frequently than anything else, but that’s because so many more people are directly involved in marriage nullity cases. But in terms of how widespread confusion can be, or as a measure of genuine interest in what’s happening in the wider Church today, excommunication issues are quite common. That’s in part why I wrote the book. I’ve been saying for some time, excommunication issues are going to increase, and the recent trends back me up. You can see those trends set out on my Excommunication Blotter.

IgnatiusInsight.com: What would you say are the most common misconceptions about excommunication? Why are they so prevalent, even among Catholics?

Peters: Let’s start with your second question. There are two factors behind the prevalence of the misconceptions about excommunication: first is the complexity of the subject matter itself, of course, and the second is the lower average level of catechesis that today’s Catholics bring to the dicussion. It is harder for people to understand the notion of excommunication if they have insufficient appreciation of the underlying concept of sin, or of what membership in the Church implies, or what kind of authority the Church has from Christ, and so on. Again, all factors leading me to write the book.

IgnatiusInsight.com: And the most common misperceptions?

Peters: I’d say there are two, maybe three.

First, there is the idea that excommunication kicks one out of the Church. That is not right. There are ways to cancel one’s Church membership, but excommunication isn’t one of them. The analogy I use to explain it is that of a felon serving a long prison term; he’s in prison, but he remains a citizen bound by the laws of his country. If he, say, owns property upon which he incurs taxes while in prison, he still owns the property and is still liable for the tax from prison; if he commits a crime in prison, he can be prosecuted for it, and so on. A felon loses certain important rights, obviously, like freedom of movement and the right to vote, but he is still a citizen. Similarly, an excommunicated person is still a member of the Church, but he or she has lost certain key rights attached to Church membership and is cut off from many of the activities and benefits of the Church.

The second misconception is that people who die excommunicated go to hell. Maybe they do, and maybe they don’t, but we don’t know with certainty either way. In any case, the Church does not claim to exercise jurisdiction over the dead, and one’s final fate is determined by God based on the life one leads. Of course, appearing before God for judgment in the state of excommunication from His Church on earth is not a good thing.

The third misconception is sort of complicated. Still want it?

IgnatiusInsight.com: I am going to post this interview on InsightInsight.com, and as you know, our readers are among the brightest people on earth. So…

Peters: Okay, let’s go. Basically, the third misconception is this: many people think that, because a given Catholic committed an action for which automatic excommunication is the penalty (for example, heresy, schism, abortion), the penalty was actually incurred in that case. That’s not necessarily true, but the reasons behind my claim require us getting into Canons 18, 1323, and 1324, among others, canons that contain a startling list of factors that mitigate or even remove liability for canonical crimes. Now taken individually, these exceptions to penal liability make sense, but when read as a whole, as we have to do, they make it much more difficult to determine whether an automatic excommunication was actually incurred in a specific case.

So what happens in cases where canon law seems to impose automatic excommunication? Invariably, the discussion in such cases turns to the technicalities of canon law, instead of staying focused on the offensive behavior that gave rise to the discussion. Many canonists believe that the automatic aspect of excommunicable offenses is actually hindering the effectiveness of the law today, and they would prefer to see the automatic aspect of the penalty shelved. They note that no modern legal system has what amounts to an “automatic conviction” upon the commission of a crime, that the long list of exceptions to automatic penalties substantially lessens the chances that such penalties are really incurred in most cases, and that the Eastern Code of Canon Law (which came out a few years after the 1983 Code for the Roman Church) has dropped automatic penalties entirely.

For all that, though, the 1983 Code says what it says. Our task is to apply the law as it is written as faithfully as we can. I treat all these issues in the book.

IgnatiusInsight.com: In an amazingly brief 65 clear and succinct pages.

Peters: An even briefer sixty-four, actually. And a couple of those pages are indexes, so they don’t really count.

IgnatiusInsight.com: You are far too modest. Have there been false or mistaken excommunications?

Peters: Undoubtedly. St. Joan of Arc comes to mind. Any time human judges make decisions about behavior, there is the possibility of mistake, excess, or flat-out dishonesty. An erroneous or contrived excommunication, however, does not bind God, as we mentioned before. He is the ultimate judge of hearts.

On the other hand, the failure to impose an excommunication can be a mistake, too. Remember, excommunication is a medicinal penalty that serves the common good of the Church. If it is deserved in a specific case, but not imposed, the goods that excommunication can serve might be left unprotected in that case. I said a minute ago that I think automatic excommunication ought to be dropped, but I also think that formal excommunication ought to be applied more frequently. Those are not inconsistent positions.

IgnatiusInsight.com: The mainstream media usually presents excommunication in terms of ideological or political differences. Why do you think that is the case?

Peters: I never read the mainstream media on religion anymore (or, come to think of it, on science, politics, modern literature, the Middle East, or anything else that is not the weather) but it sounds like the kind of mistake they would make. Excommunication is not about politics or ideology; at root, it’s about sin. The mainstream media doesn’t understand what sin is, so they surely aren’t going to understand what’s behind excommunication. Now, there are lots of examples of sinful behavior out there, but only some of them, in general the worst ones, are also crimes under canon law. Those are the kind of things that are the subject of excommunication….”

http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2006/edpeters_excommun_nov06.asp

link to excommunication blotter:

http://www.canonlaw.info/canonlaw_excomm.htm

workingclass artist on July 8, 2014 at 4:36 PM

Nor will you find the concept of sola scriptura (scripture alone as the sole source of God’s revelation)…heh.

miConsevative on July 8, 2014 at 11:52 AM

From a Protestant: good point. But I think the point of sola scriptura is the sufficiency of scripture alone. I don’t think it means that there are no independent revelations.

But then again, even Paul mentions that people should reference the example he gave while he was among them, which is only sketched in scripture.

Axeman on July 8, 2014 at 4:49 PM

The purpose of this is for the Godless state to drive a stake into the heart of the Sacramentally based Catholic Church….condoms and abortificients notwithstanding.

Don L on July 8, 2014 at 4:20 PM

Or it could be to level religious freedom, in general, starting with institution with the most codified principles. As they range out from there, everything will be argued to be more and more arbitrary, allowing exceptions for any possible doctrine.

On the flip-side, once they’ve destroyed the Catholic Church, then it won’t be “fair” for less explicit moral ideas to expect to be treated according to the relative “whims” of their religion.

Orderly society lets killers out of jail to kill and maim, because not all the t’s were crossed but demands all other rights to be clean and efficient.

Axeman on July 8, 2014 at 5:02 PM

From a Protestant: good point. But I think the point of sola scriptura is the sufficiency of scripture alone. I don’t think it means that there are no independent revelations.

Axeman on July 8, 2014 at 4:49 PM

Actually, sola Scriptura was a direct hit against the Pope speaking ex cathedra. It was in opposition to the idea that the Pope could say anything in contradiction to or in addition to the clear authority of Scripture, as if he had a direct line to God.

GWB on July 8, 2014 at 5:13 PM

Why can’t he plead the Fifth? – Recon5 at 2:16 PM

In a civil case? Doesn’t sound right to me.

But what you’re implying here sounds correct. The girl’s slimy lawyer is trying to get the state to compel him to testify in a civil liability case against his own church and the estate of this deceased (alleged) child molester (apparently never actually convicted in court). So he is attempting to exercise the confidentiality privilege. As I posted above, most states vest the confidentiality in the penitent but some states vest confidentiality in both priest and penitent. So that would make a difference here in the priest’s assertion of confidentiality.

Since the (alleged) molester died before ever being charged with or convicted of his (alleged) crimes, it makes the civil liability case against his estate more difficult for the girl’s lawyer.

Toocon on July 8, 2014 at 6:01 PM

Good thing Catholics don’t put this stuff up to a vote.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 12:26 PM

What part of “The Kingdom of God” suggests democracy?

We’ve mentioned Lutherans, and their (limited?) acceptance of a confessional. Can’t speak for them; I’m Presbyterian, and fwiw, an Elder. Presbyterians don’t do “private” confessions. Typically, during Services, we have a Call to Confession, pray our confession to God silently, often followed by a unison spoken confession; then the pastor pronounces us (in Jesus’s Name) forgiven. One may, of course, pray to God at any time; if that includes a Confession, that’s His business and not something objectionable.

If, under some extreme circumstance, a Catholic felt the need of Confessing to me (and I accept that they would have to find it highly necessary), I would of course hear the Confession of my Brother in Christ. And I would of course keep their Confession under the same absolute Seal as any priest would. If I were unwilling to keep it, then I should not have accepted the Confession in the first place.

ReggieA on July 8, 2014 at 6:43 PM

All this argument about law and principles is mildly entertaining, but the matter will be settled by the Church demonstrating how much clout it has to the state. Either there will be enough and the Church will get its way, or there won’t be and the state will win.

PersonFromPorlock on July 8, 2014 at 7:13 PM

I asked a priest friend of mine what he would do in this situation, testify in court or go to jail? He said: I would ask for a nice cell. I would also let the inmates know they could go to Confession with confidence with me since I was already in jail for not telling.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 8:32 PM

My enumerated points were specifically addressing the analogy you made.

I still think the analogy fits.

Someone telling state secrets doesn’t allow someone else who knows that secret to talk. The government has to unclassify it first.

A girl telling everyone about her confession doesn’t allow the priest to talk about that confession. Cannon Law has to allow it.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 8:34 PM

The sexual abuse was alleged to have occurred in 2008. Both the girl and the alleged abuser were members of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Clinton, where Bayhi was a pastor. The petition alleged that on three separate dates in July 2008, the child told Bayhi a church member had inappropriately touched her, kissed her and told her “he wanted to make love to her.” Court documents also say the alleged abuser communicated excessively with the girl over email and asked that she keep their relationship private.

The child testified during deposition that Bayhi’s advice to her was to handle the issue herself because “too many people would be hurt.”

^ He can answer the question, “did this happen.” He can refuse to because he fears self-incrimination, he can refuse to because his religious beliefs require him to be silent — and hopefully be punished for refusing — but her advocates have every right to ask him and expect an answer.

Axe on July 8, 2014 at 8:52 PM

From a Protestant: good point. But I think the point of sola scriptura is the sufficiency of scripture alone. I don’t think it means that there are no independent revelations.

But then again, even Paul mentions that people should reference the example he gave while he was among them, which is only sketched in scripture.

Axeman on July 8, 2014 at 4:49 PM

Thnx for the measured and balanced and intellectually honest result. I really, really appreciate it, even if we disagree in the long run.

miConsevative on July 8, 2014 at 9:09 PM

miConsevative on July 8, 2014 at 9:09 PM

Oops…make that ‘reply’, not ‘result’ – thnx!

miConsevative on July 8, 2014 at 9:11 PM

miConsevative on July 8, 2014 at 9:09 PM

Oops…make that ‘reply’, not ‘result’. Thnx!

miConsevative on July 8, 2014 at 9:12 PM

I asked a priest friend of mine what he would do in this situation, testify in court or go to jail? He said: I would ask for a nice cell. I would also let the inmates know they could go to Confession with confidence with me since I was already in jail for not telling.

cptacek on July 8, 2014 at 8:32 PM

The Orthodox have basically the same take.

If you take a look at what countries and politicians have done over the centuries to try and get confessions our of priests, jail time is really a fairly minor social censure. Compared to, say, the joint by joint severing of all of your extremities, it’s not really that big of a deal.

You have to keep these things in perspective.

On a side reference, this is part of the reason that the first amendment protects religion. You are not going to change what people believe by force. If a representative government tries to do so, it will fail and undermine its own legitimacy at the same time.

Voyager on July 8, 2014 at 10:48 PM

. . . . Having said that, any conversation with your pastor/priest/rabbi/imam should be as privileged as that between cliant and attorney.

davidk on July 8, 2014 at 1:59 PM

I appreciate that.

. . . . Peter wrote about who are the priest of God:

Coming to Him, a living stone—rejected by men but chosen and valuable to God—you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
I Peter 2

as prophesied by God to Moses at Sinai;

Now if you will listen to Me and carefully keep My covenant, you will be My own possession out of all the peoples, although all the earth is Mine, and you will be My kingdom of priests and My holy nation.
Exodus 19

. . . . .The notion of a professional class of pastors/priests is not a Biblical teaching. I don’t think it is necessarily un-Biblical and the “workman is worthy of his hire.”

But to claim a certain class of men have privileges the other saints do not possess (yes, all Christians are saints), is not a healthy system.

davidk on July 8, 2014 at 3:00 PM

It is not that Catholic/Orthodox priests have special “privileges,” they have special DUTIES and callings.

There is a spiritual priesthood of all believers and there is a ministerial priesthood, as in the earliest days of the Church.

We are all baptized “priest, prophet and king.” As Christians we all offer ourselves and our prayers up to God. We need no other intercessor when we are in Christ. And we join in the offering of Christ’s one sacrifice.

But the ministerial priesthood is different. St. Ignatius in 110AD clearly wrote of the 3 types of ordained ministries in the Church (deacons, priest/presbyters and bishops/elders. Also mentioned in the New Testament.

Just like in Exodus 19:6 when God tells the Jews, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. That is what you must tell the Israelites.”

This was not simply a prophecy that God was telling the Jews for centuries later. He was declaring the Jewish people then and there to be “a kingdom of priests, a holy nation,” His holy nation, His chosen people, through whom He would save the whole world, in the fullness of time, through His salvation plan. But the Jews where His holy nation, then and there.

As you know, this is the Scripture that Peter was quoting in the following passage.

1 Peter 2:5-9:
“and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. . . . .
But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

Yet we know from reading the rest of Exodus and the Old Testament, that although God made the whole Jewish nation a “kingdom of priests,” a spiritual priesthood, that didn’t stop God from retaining and further instituting His actual ministerial priesthood that He ordained for Israel, the Levites, the sons of Aaron. We even see ministerial priests described in that very same chapter in

Exodus 19:22-24:
“The priests, too, who approach the LORD must sanctify themselves; else he will vent his anger upon them.” . . .
The LORD repeated, “Go down now! Then come up again along with Aaron. But the priests and the people must not break through to come up to the LORD; else he will vent his anger upon them.”

Later, more specifically to Aaron, Exodus 28:1-4:

“”From among the Israelites have your brother Aaron, together with his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, brought to you, that they may be my priests. . . . . vestments for Aaron as will set him apart for his sacred service as my priest. . . . . In making these sacred vestments which your brother Aaron and his sons are to wear in serving as my priests,”

In the Old Covenant, all the faithful were spiritual priests, but some were chosen by God to be ministerial priests. Same in the New Covenant.

Jesus is our High Priest and the ministerial priests here on earth assist Him. Just like the Jews had their High Priest, who alone could enter the Holy of Holies, and he had many priest who helped him in his ministry with the people of the Old Covenant.

Elisa on July 8, 2014 at 11:37 PM

But the ministerial priesthood is different. St. Ignatius in 110AD clearly wrote of the 3 types of ordained ministries in the Church (deacons, priest/presbyters and bishops/elders. Also mentioned in the New Testament.

Elisa on July 8, 2014 at 11:37 PM

During the 1st century and still today, the ministerial priesthood had 3 rankings: Episcopoi (Bishops/overseers/sometimes called Evangelists),

presbuteroi (presbyters/elders – the English word “priest” comes from the Greek presbuteroi, not from the Greek word for a Jewish priest. The Greek word for Jewish priest was not used in the early Church to apply to the presbyters/elders, so as to distinguish them from the priests of the Old Covenant, whose duties of sacrifice in the Temple were different than the duties of Christian presbyters/elders/priests who offered the Lord’s Supper and also acted as rabbis/teachers. But Paul uses the Greek word for priest when he describes his ministerial duties in Romans 15:15-16: “But I have written to you rather boldly in some respects, to remind you, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in performing the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering up of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (presbueroi can also be translated as “ancient” or “father.” And Paul calls himself our “spiritual father.”)

and diakonoi (deacons/ministers)

Elisa on July 8, 2014 at 11:40 PM

Wait, this is *civil*? Eff ‘em, Padre gets on the stand and answers “I don’t know,” to everything from either side. What are they going to do, throw him in jail for contempt? I can see city marshals and parish sheriffs not getting reelected over that sort of thing.

hurricane567 on July 9, 2014 at 4:21 AM

I don’t necessarily agree with all the specific theology involved, however as the Apostle Peter declared, “We must obey God rather than men”. If the priest believes God commands him to keep silent about the confessional, then he must do so.

Persecution and loss are part of the deal with obedience to God and Christ, so if the priest has to go to jail to be obedient, then he should go gladly and praise God that he is considered worthy to share in the sufferings of Christ.

The fact that government entities in the USA are doing the persecuting is disappointing, but given the political climate these days, it is not surprising.

s1im on July 9, 2014 at 7:45 PM

As a clergy member, I have to laugh at some of the “Law and Order” ‘what if’ scenarios here. Ninety-nine point ninety nine percent of what is heard in confession is far from nuclear bombs being planted and set to go off in an hour (I myself have only heard that three or four times).

Hening on July 11, 2014 at 9:04 AM

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