The law of the confessional has trumped the law of Louisiana in a February 26 court ruling. The ruling favors a Catholic priest, the Reverend Jeff Bayhi of Our Lady of Assumption in Clinton, who allegedly advised a 14-year-old (now 22-year-old) girl to “sweep it under the rug” when she told him she had been sexually abused by another parishioner.
From The Advocate:
The state Children’s Code says members of the clergy, including priests, rabbis and other ordained ministers of faith, are mandatory reporters of suspected abuse. The law provides an exception when the allegations of abuse are revealed during a confidential religious communication like confession.
However, the code — specifically Article 609 A(1) — also states that “notwithstanding any claim of privileged communication, any mandatory reporter who has cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare is endangered” must report that information to the proper authorities.
After hearing Bayhi testify Friday that he would be automatically excommunicated if he revealed what was said in any confession, District Judge Mike Caldwell ruled Article 609 A(1) violates the priest’s constitutionally protected religious freedom rights.
The Reverend Bayhi, who hosts a radio show, “A Closer Walk with Father Jeff Bayhi,” and the Baton Rouge bishop responded to the ruling:
“We’re just always happy when the court upholds religious liberties,” Bayhi said as he left the 19th Judicial District Courthouse.
Bishop Robert Muench, in a written statement late Friday, said, “As Bishop of the Diocese of Baton Rouge I extend my compassion and offer prayer not only for the plaintiff who may have been harmed by the actions of a man who was not an employee of the church, but also for all who have been abused by anyone.
“The court’s decision to uphold the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion is essential and we appreciate the ruling.”
According to Religion New Service,
Mayeaux’s attorneys pledged to appeal. The seal of the confessional has been challenged before, and at least one bishop has said he would violate it in favor of “the greatest good, the protection of innocent people.”
“During this reporting, WBRZ-TV and its employees presented Mayeux’s claims against Father Bayhi in such a manner as to create the impression that those claims [made by Mayeux] were facts instead of mere allegations,” lawyer Henry Olinde Jr. writes in Bayhi’s suit against the station.
WBRZ news director Lee Polowczuk said Dec. 22 that the station’s attorneys were reviewing the suit and he could not comment on the specific allegations in it. “We’re confident the outcome will be in WBRZ’s favor,” he added.
WBRZ’s coverage in July 2014 summarizes the history of the abuse:
It all began in 2008, when Rebecca met George Charlet Jr. at church. Charlet was a well known long time parishoner at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Clinton. He was also the owner of Charlet’s Funeral Home in Zachary. A picture of the two showed the close relationship Charlet thought he had with the teen. It’s also a picture from when she claims Charlet was abusing her, and brainwashing her through what she says were emails and scripture. On three different occasions, Rebecca sought spiritual guidance through confession from one of the men she respected most in her life, to guide her in the right direction.
“I went to the priest and asked father what do I do,” Mayeux said. “He told me to take care of it. So in my own way I took care of it.”
Was Mayeaux coming to her priest for guidance or for sacrament?
Rebecca claims when Father Bayhi was alerted of the sexual abuse he did nothing and did not report it to the victim’s parents or authorities. Once Rebecca’s parents found out, the East Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s office launched an investigation. But, in a surprise twist Charlet died unexpectedly from a massive heart attack, and the criminal case was dropped.
“Our paramount concern is the safety of the child,” Brian Abels, Rebecca Mayeux’s attorney said.
Abels claims his client went to the priest not trying to confess her sins, but looking for guidance. Abels believes the priest had a mandatory duty under the state’s children’s code to report the crimes he knew were taking place.
“Regardless if it’s Baptist or Catholic or Methodist or whatever the denomination, when someone in that type of authority learns these matters, regardless of the setting, take some action,” Abels said. “Protect that child, especially if you know things are ongoing and may escalate.”