THE CONFESSIONAL

There is considerable variation from one state to another and from one circumstance to another about the seal of confession.  While it seems to be almost universally recognized as authoritative when administered by Roman Catholic priests, it is not always recognized for evangelical Pastors or not recognized in every circumstance.  For example, child abuse reporting statutes in some states do not shield confessions to evangelical Pastors while others do within limitations.

In Sonnier v Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette, Slip Op., (WD La. 2017) (No. CIV-16-1229), the federal magistrate recommended that the case be dismissed with prejudice.  The Plaintiff alleged the confessional was being used to interview witnesses in civil litigation (and had nothing to do with child abuse reporting).  The Plaintiff alleged the confessional seal was broken by the priest that allegedly told others something about what was said and that the Diocese did nothing to stop the leak.  Needless to say, the priest and the Diocese denied the allegations.  Moreover, it was obvious to the magistrate that in order to determine whether any of the Plaintiff’s allegations were actionable, the court would have to apply ecclesiastical (or canon) law which the court believed would carry the court beyond the barrier of the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine.

As an aside, and by way of example, by statute Louisiana shielded all ministers, priests and pastors to an extent from child abuse reporting regarding confessional disclosures.  See, Parents of Minor Child v Diocese of Baton Rouge, ___ So3d ___, 2013 WL 5712245 (La. App., 1 Cir.)(unpublished).

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