Judge rules priests not required to report alleged wrongdoing if learned during confession _lowres

Advocate Staff Photo by Travis Spradling -- Father Jeff Bayhi smiles, in between segments being taped for his show 'A Closer Walk with Father Jeff Bayhi.' Bayhi pastors two churches and does the show, which was taping Thursday, June 14, 2012, in Catholic Life Television's studio in the Bishop Robert E. Tracy Center, at the Catholic Life Center.

A young woman who claims she was just 14 when she told a Baton Rouge-area Catholic priest that a longtime church parishioner was sexually abusing her, but that the priest did nothing to stop or report the alleged abuse, can tell a jury what she allegedly told the priest in a confession, a divided state appeals court ruled.

But the dissenting member of the three-judge 1st Circuit Court of Appeal panel warned that allowing Rebecca Mayeux to mention the confessions will "place an undue burden" on the Rev. Jeff Bayhi's "right to the free exercise of his religion and violates the constitutional command of separation of church and state."

The appellate court, in its Friday decision, backed state District Judge Mike Caldwell, who also stated in his February ruling that Mayeux's attorneys won't be allowed to argue to an East Baton Rouge Parish jury that Bayhi was mandated to report her allegations to the authorities.

Caldwell declared unconstitutional a provision of the Louisiana Children's Code that requires clergy to report allegations of wrongdoing, even if learned in the privacy of the confessional.

Brian Abels, one of Mayeux's attorneys, said Monday the constitutional issue was appealed directly to the Louisiana Supreme Court, where it remains.

As for the 1st Circuit's 2-1 decision, Abels called it a "big win" for Mayeux and her parents, who sued Bayhi and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge in 2009.

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"The First Circuit did uphold Judge Caldwell's rulings that Rebecca can testify as to what she told the priest in confession and that our claims against the diocese remain," Abels said.

Attorneys for Bayhi and the diocese could not be reached Monday for comment.

First Circuit Judge Guy Holdridge disagreed with fellow Circuit Judges Ernest Drake and Wayne Ray Chutz, writing in his dissenting opinion that the statements "were made during the Sacrament of Confession, which is one of the central institutional practices of the Roman Catholic Church."

Mayeux's alleged abuser, George Charlet Jr., died in 2009 at the age of 65. Mayeux alleges she told Bayhi, her pastor at Our Lady of Assumption in Clinton, in 2008 of the alleged sexual abuse.

Bayhi contends he can neither disclose what happens in any confession nor confirm that a confession ever took place. To do so would bring automatic excommunication from the church, he testified previously in the case.

The lawsuit also names Charlet as a defendant.


CaFollow Joe Gyan Jr. on Twitter, @JoeGyanJr.