Monday, July 14, 2014

Next on Faith On Trial: Can a judge order a priest to violate the seal of the confessional?

The Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge and one of its priests has been fighting an attempt by litigant to compel the testimony of statements made during a sacramental confession.  This is an extremely interesting case since the litigant trying to elicit the testimony of the priest is the penitent herself, a girl of 12, who told the priest about being molested by an adult parishioner.  There are several interesting legal questions surrounding this case: First, does the priest-penitent privilege belong to the priest or to the penitent? In most cases of privilege, the privilege belongs to the disclosing party; thus, for example, the attorney-client privilege may be waived when the client consents.

Second, do the state mandatory reporting laws concerning child abuse apply to a priest who hears of it in the confessional?  And finally, what about Canon Law that provides “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.” Canon 983 §1.
Msgr. Larry Beeson
The priest involved and the diocese state that the priest will not testify under any circumstances.  The Louisiana Supreme Court has just ruled that the priest might be compelled to testify and sent the case back to the trial court for its determination (it had earlier ruled that the priest could be so ordered).

Can the courts trample over the seal of the confessional?
Tuesday we will have a discussion of that with Deacon Mike Manno, who is an attorney, and Monsignor Larry Beeson, a canon lawyer who listeners will recognize as the chaplain for Iowa Catholic Radio.

Join Deacon Mike and co-host Gina Noll tomorrow morning at 9 (CDT) on Iowa Catholic Radio, 1150 AM; 88.5 & 94.5 FM and streaming on  for an interesting discussion of this case. The program will be re-broadcast at 9 in the evening.
Faith On Trial is the only program of its kind on Catholic radio and is underwritten by Attorney Rick McConville of Coppola, McConville, Coppola, Carroll, Hockenberg & Scalise PC, 2100 Westown Parkway, West Des Moines, 453-1055 or on-line at  FOT is on every Tuesday at 9 and 9.

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