- Associated Press - Saturday, February 27, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - A Louisiana judge has struck down a state requirement that clergy members report suspected child abuse even if they learn about it during a private confessional.

State District Judge Mike Caldwell ruled Friday that the requirement - a Louisiana Children’s Code provision - violates the constitutionally protected religious freedom rights of a Roman Catholic priest accused of neglecting his duty to report a teenager’s abuse allegations to authorities.

The Advocate reports (https://bit.ly/1QC8VOT ) that Caldwell ruled in favor of the Rev. Jeff Bayhi in a lawsuit that 22-year-old Rebecca Mayeaux filed against the priest and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge in 2009.

Mayeaux says she was 14 in 2008 when she told Bayhi during confession that a 64-year-old parishioner was sexually abusing her. Mayeaux claims Bayhi, pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption church in Clinton, told her to “sweep it under the floor and get rid of it.”

The Associated Press does not usually identify victims of sexual abuse, but Mayeaux went public with her case in a 2014 interview with WBRZ-TV.

“It’s time to speak up and get the word out,” she told the television station at the time.

Bayhi testified on Friday that he would be automatically excommunicated if he revealed what was said in confession.

“We’re just always happy when the court upholds religious liberties,” Bayhi said as he left the courthouse.

Brian Abels, one of Mayeaux’s attorneys, said they would evaluate their options after the ruling, which can be appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Bishop Robert Muench, of Baton Rouge diocese, praised the ruling in a statement Friday.

“The court’s decision to uphold the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion is essential and we appreciate the ruling,” he said.

The state Children’s Code says clergy members are mandatory reporters of suspected abuse. The code 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 authorities.


Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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