Ruling 'attacking' seal of confession likely headed to U.S. Supr - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Ruling 'attacking' seal of confession likely headed to U.S. Supreme Court

It's a case likely headed for the U.S. Supreme Court involving a 14-year-old girl who claims that during the sacrament of confession, she told her parish priest she was being abused.

Her parents are suing the priest and the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, because the priest did not report the abuse.

Diocese officials say, in its ruling, the Louisiana Supreme Court ran afoul of the constitutional rights of the church and the priest.

The secrecy of the confessional is not simply a church tradition.  It's considered foundational doctrine of the catholic church that priests absolutely must not violate.

"We cannot break the seal of confession. It is forbidden for us to break it," said Rev. Derek Covert of the Diocese of Lake Charles. Father Covert is a canon lawyer, an expert on church rules and doctrine.

"This is something required from Sacred Scripture, that we confess our sins, and therefore, it is something required by divine law. This is by God, okay? And what we would argue in this is if a person was prevented from going to confession because they feared that it might be revealed, if a priest was made to reveal it, now that person is not going to fulfill a divine law or divine precept," said Covert. 

Covert predicts many, if not most priests, would go to prison before they would violate the sacred seal of the sacrament of confession.

"We would have to maybe do time in prison for contempt of court or something like that," said Covert. 

In the Baton Rouge case, church officials say they will appeal to the highest court of the land to protect freedom of religion for both the church and the priest.

Cynthia Killingsworth is both a prosecutor and a devout Catholic. She understands the sacred seal of the confessional.

"If you think that a priest or whoever you're telling about that in the confessional, which has to be a priest, is going to report it, you're not going to tell. At least, nobody I know would," said Killingsworth.

Yet, she would like to see priests do all they can to encourage those aware of criminal abuse to report it.

"They can encourage the person who is confessing to report, no matter who they are, and they can do that rather strenuously I think. I think that's fair," said Killingsworth.

But being ordered to testify about what's told in the confessional could leave them choosing between prison and excommunication.  

To hear more of our interview with Father Covert look for the web extra at www.kplctv.com.

Copyright 2014 KPLC All rights reserved

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