The Supreme Court of Louisiana has ordered a Catholic priest to reveal something said to him in confession, asking him to do something that would result in his automatic excommunication from the Catholic Church.
The case revolves around a 12-year-old girl who confessed to the priest that she had sexual relations with an older man who also attended her Church. A law suit was brought against the priest and the Diocese of Baton Rouge after the accused man died of a heart attack and therefore the criminal investigation had ended.
The young girl was said to have testified that she told the priest in confession what had happened and that his response was that it was her problem and she should “Sweep it under the floor.” The suit brought against the priest and the Diocese seeks damages for sexual abuse. The suit charges that, under state law, the priest had a legal obligation to report what the girl told him because he was a “mandatory reporter.”
The church holds that anything said in confession is sacrosanct and can never be revealed. Laws around the world and in all 50 US states recognize the inviolability of the confessional.
Lower courts upheld the claims of the Church, which have been a part of jurisprudence for centuries, but the State Supreme Court decided in May that his testimony can be compelled since the confidentiality of confession was waived by the girl.
The “Seal of the Confessional” is one of the most important aspects to confession, what the Church teaches is one of seven sacraments. Priests may not even say who has come to them for confession let alone what the person has said. According to Canon Law, “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 Diocese of Baton Rouge released a statement Tuesday saying they would not comply and that such a request violates the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution. The statement said, “the priest would have to suffer a finding of contempt in a civil matter and suffer imprisonment rather than violate his sacred duty and violate the seal of confession and his duty to the penitent.” The statement went on to say that Church law does not allow anyone to waive the seal of confession, not even the young woman who brought the suit.