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Court challenges seal of confession

BATON ROUGE (CWN): In a two-one ruling, an appellate court in the United States of America ruled that a woman whose family is suing the diocese of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and one of its priests, may testify about what she told the priest during confession.

In his dissenting opinion, one judge, Guy Holdridge, wrote that “allowing plaintiffs to mention, reference, or introduce evidence at trial of the confessions at issue will place an undue burden on Father (Jeff) Bayhi’s right to the free exercise of his religion and violates the constitutional command of separation of Church and state.”

The ruling comes in a long-running case in which Father Bayhi had been directed to testify about what a 14-year-old reportedly told him in confession.

The young woman has said that she told Father Bayhi about being molested by a member of his parish. Father Bayhi has refused to testify, citing the inviolability of the confessional seal.

Earlier this year, a lower court ruled that the state law mandating priests to report sexual abuse was unconstitutional insofar as it applied to confession, since it violates religious freedom. That decision has been appealed to a different court.

In an earlier phase of the case, the Louisiana Supreme Court said that Father Bayhi could be required to testify, because in this case the penitent had waived the protection of the confessional seal.

But Church officials pointed out that the seal cannot be waived and a priest cannot reveal the contents of a confession under any circumstances.

Last year the Supreme Court of the United States of America declined to hear the case.

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