The Investigative Unit: From confessional to court
BATON ROUGE - The Diocese of Baton Rouge is firing back over a lawsuit involving a local priest who didn't report sexual abuse he knew about to authorities or parents of the alleged victim. The case is now tangled up in court, and has already made its way to the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Rebecca Mayeux was 14 when she claims the abuse first began by a local parishioner at her Catholic Church. When she went to her priest for advice, he kept his sacred code of silence. This is a case that has the Catholic Church defending its deeply rooted traditions that are steeped in confidentiality. It's those traditions the victim and her attorney believe prevented the priest from reporting the abuse he knew about.
Rebecca Mayeux is an intelligent 20-year old college student in the prime of her life. Reading is one of her favorite hobbies, and reading is how she's dealt with her misery for the past six years. It's also how she hopes to turn a page into a new chapter of her life.
"I'm speaking up today because it's been six years since I've been molested by George Charlet Jr., and it's time to speak up," Mayeux said.
It all began in 2008, when Rebecca met George Charlet Jr. at church. Charlet was a well known long time parishoner at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Clinton. He was also the owner of Charlet's Funeral Home in Zachary. A picture of the two showed the close relationship Charlet thought he had with the teen. It's also a picture from when she claims Charlet was abusing her, and brainwashing her through what she says were emails and scripture. On three different occasions, Rebecca sought spiritual guidance through confession from one of the men she respected most in her life, to guide her in the right direction.
"I went to the priest and asked father what do I do," Mayeux said. "He told me to take care of it. So in my own way I took care of it."
The Diocese of Baton Rouge identified the Priest as Father Jeffrey Bayhi. Court records show when Rebecca went to Bayhi, Rebecca says he told her, "This is your problem. Sweep it under the floor and get rid of it."
A homily Father Bayhi posted to Youtube during that same time, and appears to contradict what he told Rebecca Mayeux.
"Those of you who are parents, watch some kid push your child down on the playground," Bayhi said. "Watch someone bad mouth your child. Watch someone do something to hurt on your love. What are you going to do pray for them? If you go to them and say excuse me, I think we need to talk and they say don't worry about it. I knelt by my bed last night, I told god I was sorry. Everything is fine. Is that good enough for you? It wouldn't be good enough for me."
One of the places the abuse happened according to Mayeux was at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church. It's also the place where Mayeux met with the priest and told him about the allegations of abuse. It's also where she says he told her to brush it under the rug.
Rebecca claims when Father Bayhi was alerted of the sexual abuse he did nothing and did not report it to the victim's parents or authorities. Once Rebecca's parents found out, the East Feliciana Parish Sheriff's office launched an investigation. But, in a surprise twist Charlet died unexpectedly from a massive heart attack, and the criminal case was dropped.
"Our paramount concern is the safety of the child," Brian Abels, Rebecca Mayeux's attorney said.
Abels claims his client went to the priest not trying to confess her sins, but looking for guidance. Abels believes the priest had a mandatory duty under the state's children's code to report the crimes he knew were taking place.
"Regardless if it's Baptist or Catholic or Methodist or whatever the denomination, when someone in that type of authority learns these matters, regardless of the setting, take some action," Abels said. "Protect that child, especially if you know things are ongoing and may escalate."
When the abuse came to light, Abels filed suit. A judge in Baton Rouge ruled against the Diocese which tried to block Mayeux's confession from being used in court. The Church appealed and won, blocking the confessions. But, the State's highest court disagreed. The church lost it's fight again. Now, the court ruled Rebecca's confession to the priest can be used, if she testifies what she told him.
The Diocese of Baton Rouge disagrees with the State Supreme Court and says it has run afoul of the constitutional rights of the church and priest. The Diocese says a priest will be ex-communicated if he breaks the seal of confession and Father Bayhi acted appropriately.
As Rebecca looks back on what happened to her in one of the holiest of places, she hopes her story prevents other sex abuse victims' complaints from falling on deaf ears.
"Put yourself in my shoes." Mayeux said. "If I was your kid, would you just brush off what the priest told me and be like yeah it was your responsibility, yeah you should have figured it out?"
Attorneys for both sides say this issue is far from over, and more legal issues need to be resolved before this can go to trial. Meanwhile, the Diocese has reiterated it will take this issue to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
The Diocese of Baton Rouge declined our request for an on camera interview. Click here to read the full response from the Diocese of Baton Rouge in writing.
Click here to read the ruling from the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
Click here to read the ruling from the State Supreme Court, overturning the Appeal Court's ruling.