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Judge rules in favor of priest who didn't report allegations of sexual abuse

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BATON ROUGE - Judge Mike Caldwell ruled a part of the state's children's code requiring priests to be mandatory reporters of abuse that they learn during "priviledged conversations," is unconstitutional today. The ruling means Priests don't have to speak up if they learn children are the victims of abuse during confessions.

This is a topic that centers around a case nearly ten years old. Rebecca Mayeux claims she told Father Jeffrey Bayhi about abuse she endured at the hands of church parishioner, George Charlet Junior. She claims that happened when she was 14-years-old during a confession.

After today's ruling, Father Bayhi exited the courthouse and called the Judge's ruling a win.

"We're just very happy when the court upholds religious liberties, they did that today so we're very pleased," Father Bayhi said.

In court, Judge Caldwell ruled Bayhi's religious freedom rights would be violated if he was forced to talk about the alleged confession.

Two years ago, Mayeux told us she went to Father Bayhi seeking advice when she was 14, because she trusted him more than her parents. Court records show when Mayeux went to Bayhi, Rebecca says he told her, "This is your problem, sweep it under the floor and get rid of it."

But, on the stand today, Father Bayhi told a Judge he can't even confirm whether someone even came to confession. That's just how sacred it is.  He added no one would trust priests if confessions were public.

Father Paul Counce is a canon lawyer for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. Counce testified this morning that priests can be excommunicated if they break the seal of confession.

Counce said in the seminary, priests are taught to give advice to go to parents or guidance counselors if they learn crimes are taking place. They are also told to talk to priests outside of the confessional.

Mayeux's lawyer believes there's a gray area with the sacred seal of confession that could protect people who hurt children.

"When you look at other denominations who don't have a confessional and don't use that, where does it start and end for them," Abels asked. "If they just use their office to counsel or hear parishioners come in, it does pose an interesting question."

Earlier in the day, the Diocese tried to prohibit Mayeux from testifying about what she told Father Bayhi during that alleged confession. A judge ruled she could testify about what she told him, but her attorney can't argue that Bayhi was mandated to report that.

Mayeux's attorney believes this case could go to trial sometime next year.


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