Court orders Catholic Priest to Violate his Sacred Vow
If a decision of the Louisiana Supreme Court holds, the Seal of Confession will soon be a thing of the past. The doors will be open for all priests to be called before tribunals to testify about what they heard from their penitents. Those who refuse will be imprisoned. This is not China or Cuba, it’s now America.
The chilling ruling was an April 4, 2014 decision by Louisiana’s Supreme Court in the case of [Parents of minor child] vs.George J. Charlet, Jr., Deceased, Charlet Funeral Home, Inc., [The Priest], and The Roman Catholic Church of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. 1 The court intends to compel Fr. Jeff Bayhi—a Roman Catholic priest and pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Clinton, La.—to testify under oath in court whether or not he heard in 2008 the confessions of a 14-year-old girl that purportedly included information on sexual abuse she was then suffering at the hands of a now-deceased lay fellow parishioner, “and, if so, what the contents of any such confessions were.” 2
The Supreme Court ruled that under state law the privileged confidential status for Confession is for the sole benefit of the penitent, not the priest-confessor, so that once the penitent has waived confidentiality and disclosed the Confession’s details, then no further privileged protection exists in law and the priest-confessor can be compelled to provide sworn testimony in court on what he heard or did not hear during the Sacrament.
While theAmerican Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property—TFP and its Louisiana sister organization, Tradition, Family, Property-Louisiana, abhor and do everything they can to oppose the widespread collapse in sexual mores in society, we cannot remain silent when the Church and the Seal of Confession come under attack.
This Louisiana Supreme Court decision is not an isolated threat to the freedom of the Catholic Church. The Seal of Confession has come under fire in recent years from legislative bills introduced in Louisiana, New Hampshire, Kentucky, Maryland, Connecticut, and improper court action in Oregon. Abroad, the Seal of Confession has been threatened in Australia and even in Catholic Ireland.
To our knowledge, not even during the nineteenth century heyday of Know Nothing anti-Catholic mob violence, did any branch of federal or state government ever force a Catholic priest to violate the sacred confidentiality of the Seal of Confession.
Things may soon be very different unless Catholics stand up for their God-given right to believe, profess and practice their Catholic faith in full freedom, without improper government interference.
While the continued persistence of this persecutory trend against the Seal of Confession is shameful in itself, the fact that it is now occurring in a country that prides itself on its defense of freedom worldwide is simply cynical.
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Divine Law Forbids the Violation of the Seal of Confession
If, on the natural plane, confidentiality in legal or medical counseling is essential for the good functioning of society, in the supernatural sphere (where the Sacrament of Confession is rooted) confidentiality is an absolute necessity. The need for confidentiality does not stem merely from a law of the natural order, but from an imposition of Divine Law which brooks no exception.
Confession is a sacrament instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby the Catholic priest, serving as a visible instrument of the Savior, in His name and by His Divine power, pardons the sins confessed to him. And since Confession would become odious and unbearable if private sins were to be known, an absolute guarantee of secrecy is an indispensable condition for the Sacrament to function. Knowledge that the Seal of Confession is no longer absolute in the eyes of the State will have a chilling effect on all Catholics, possibly leading many to stay away from the Sacrament.
Diocese of Baton Rouge Issues a Courageous Statement
On July 7, 2014, the Baton Rouge diocese issued a courageous public statement which affirms:
We contend that such a procedure is a clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the U. S. Constitution. The Supreme Court of Louisiana cannot order the District Court to do that which no civil court possibly can—determine what constitutes the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the Catholic Church. Indeed, both state and federal jurisprudence make clear that there is no jurisdiction to adjudicate claims that turn upon such purely religious questions.
A foundational doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church for thousands of years mandates that the seal of confession is absolute and inviolable. Pursuant to his oath to the Church, a priest is compelled never to break that seal. Neither is a priest allowed to admit that someone went to confession to him. If necessary, the priest would have to suffer a finding of contempt in a civil court and suffer imprisonment rather than violate his sacred duty and violate the seal of confession and his duty to the penitent. 3
Faithful Priests Prefer Death to Betraying the Seal of Confession
A court decision forcing priests to break the Seal of Confession places them in the excruciating dilemma of having to choose between obeying God and His Church or a secularist court of law! All priests who are faithful to their sublime vocation will answer with Saint Peter: “We ought to obey God, rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Saint John Nepomucene (1340–1393), vicar general to the Archbishop of Prague, was a martyr for the Seal of Confession when he refused to reveal to the cruel and unjust King Wenceslaus IV the contents of the Queen’s confession.
Confessors under Communism and Nazism suffered prison, torture and execution rather than fail in their duty to preserve the Seal of Confession.
Attack on the Freedom of the Catholic Church
Once the Seal of Confession is broken, the Sacrament of Mercy—through which God forgives sins through the ministry of the priest—becomes unviable.
In other words, the Church loses Her freedom. The Church will effectively become an instrument of the State since She will be compelled to report on all activities of citizens that the State deems necessary—even tax evasion. She loses the ability to obey Jesus’ command to “Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). She loses the ability to fulfill the mandate received from the Divine Savior after His Resurrection: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained” (John 20:23).
Appeal to God’s tribunal
All authority comes from God, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, and human laws cannot oppose Divine Law. “There is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God” (Rom. 13:1).
When human justice fails us, and we are deprived from our right and our freedom to practice the Catholic faith in its fullness, we must turn to the Supreme Tribunal of God Almighty, “just Judge, searcher of mind and heart” (Jer. 11:20), and urge His Divine intervention to restore order and justice among men.
Appeal to all Louisianians, to all Americans
But to our ardent prayers for God’s help, He expects us to add our indignant protest.
And thus, as civic organizations of Catholic inspiration, The American TFP and its sister organization in the Bayou State, Tradition, Family, Property—Louisiana, jointly call on all Louisianians and all Americans to legally and peacefully manifest their profound rejection for this secular, persecutory and offensive meddling by the Louisiana Supreme Court in the Sacrament of Confession—an issue that is clearly religious, and strictly within the Church’s spiritual sphere.
We urge all Louisianians and all Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to register their protest with the Court through its public information officer (always respectfully, even when being firm):
Valerie S. Willard
Court Public Information Officer
Louisiana Supreme Court
400 Royal Street, Suite 1190
New Orleans, LA 70130-8101
Tel.: (504) 310-2550
May Our Lady, Patroness of the United States, protect us from religious persecution, and obtain from her Divine Son courage and perseverance in the struggle to defend the freedom of the Roman Catholic Church in America.
July 10, 2014
The American TFP
Tradition, Family, Property—Louisiana
- [Parents of minor child] versus George J. Charlet, Jr., Deceased, Charlet Funeral Home, Inc., [The Priest], and The Roman Catholic Church of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, at http://www.lasc.org/opinions/2014/13C2879.pc.pdf, accessed July 9, 2014.
- Diocese of Baton Rouge, “Official Statement of the Diocese of Baton Rouge Regarding Order to Break Confessional Seal” July 7, 2014, at http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=10609, accessed July 9, 2014.
- Ibid. (Our emphasis)