Laws that require people to report evidence of child abuse or neglect are standard in almost every U.S. state.
But thanks to a Louisiana judge, priests in the state are now exempt from the law. If a child confides with a priest in a confessional booth about any form of abuse, the priest is not obligated to say anything.
Prompting the ruling was a case from 2014 when 14-year-old Rebecca Mayeaux confided in Catholic priest Jeff Bayhi that she was being molested by a 64-year-old man who was a member of their congregation.
According to reports, Bayhi allegedly told Mayeaux, “This is your problem. Sweep it under the floor and get rid of it.” He never said a word to police. During his testimony in court, Bayhi argued that if mandatory reporting applied to priests, no one would ever come to confession.
On October 28, the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld an earlier ruling that said conversations in a confessional booth are not subject to mandatory reporting, effectively taking sides with the church over the safety of abuse victims.
According to the ruling:
… any communication made to a priest privately in the sacrament of confession for the purpose of confession, repentance, and absolution is a confidential communication under La. Code Evid. 511, and the priest is exempt from mandatory reporter status in such circumstances by operation of La. Child. Code art. 603, because “under the … tenets of the [Roman Catholic] church” he has an inviolable “duty to keep such communications confidential.”
The judge additionally claimed that the law “never intended to impose such mandatory reporter status on priests when administering the sacrament of confession …”
From Hermant Mehta of The Friendly Atheist:
So there you go. Priests are legally exempt from the mandatory reporting laws. But that still doesn’t make their silence ethical. This is yet another example of Catholic dogma overriding what’s best for the people they claim to be helping. We’ve already seen the Church fight death with dignity laws, forcing terminally ill patients to suffer instead of letting them end their lives on their own terms. They also won’t help women end a pregnancy even when their lives are in danger.
Mayeux’s alleged abuser, George Charlet Jr., died in 2009.