A state judge refused Monday to dismiss the Roman Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge and a priest from a 2009 lawsuit by a woman who says that when she was a teenager she told the priest she was being sexually abused by a church parishioner, but he did not stop or report the alleged abuse.
District Judge Mike Caldwell said it will be up to an East Baton Rouge Parish jury to decide whether what Rebecca Mayeux allegedly told Father Jeff Bayhi in the confessional was in fact a confession as defined by the Catholic Church, and therefore confidential, or whether she was merely seeking support and guidance instead of confessing sins.
Caldwell and a state appeals court both ruled last year that Mayeux can tell a jury what she allegedly told Bayhi in the confessional.
The Louisiana Supreme Court also ruled last fall in the long-running case that a priest has no duty to report confidential information heard during the sacrament of confession.
A young woman who claims she was just 14 when she told a Baton Rouge-area Catholic priest th…
Mayeux's attorney, Brian Abels, said the case is set for trial Oct. 23.
Bayhi has testified previously in the case that he can neither disclose what happens in any confession nor confirm that a confession even took place. To do so, he said, would lead to automatic expulsion from the church.
Michael DeShazo, an attorney for the Baton Rouge Diocese and Bayhi, argued Monday to Caldwell that Mayeux alleged in her suit in 2009 that the statements she made to Bayhi were during the sacrament of reconciliation, but in a later deposition she described her communications with the priest as a cry for help that was not confidential.
"That simply does not compute," DeShazo told the judge. "Only the Catholic Church can say whether statements made in the confessional are confidential."
Abels said the young woman has not changed her position.
The diocese and Bayhi "don't want the jury to decide this issue," he told Caldwell.
"These were not confidential communications," Abels added. "Where the communications took place is not dispositive of the issue."
A legal battle over whether a Louisiana priest should have reported a teenager’s claims of s…
In its October ruling in the case, the state Supreme Court wrote that "any communication made to a priest privately in the sacrament of confession for the purpose of confession, repentance, and absolution is a confidential communication … and the priest is exempt from mandatory reporter status."
The high court also stated in an earlier 2014 ruling that a dispute remained "concerning whether the communications between the child and the priest were confessions per se and whether the priest obtained knowledge outside the confessional that would trigger his duty to report" sexual abuse allegations.
"The Supreme Court said it's a factual issue that goes to the jury," Caldwell said Monday.
A priest has no duty to report confidential information heard during a sacramental confessio…
DeShazo and Don Richard, who also represents the diocese and Bayhi, said they could not comment on the judge's ruling.
Mayeux claims she told Bayhi, her pastor at Our Lady of Assumption in Clinton, in 2008 of the alleged abuse. Mayeux's alleged abuser, George Charlet Jr., died in 2009 at the age of 65. His estate also is a defendant in the case.