Commentary

Louisiana Demands Priest Violate the Confessional or Go to Jail

By Fr. Frank Pavone | September 23, 2014 | 10:52am EDT

Priests for Life (PFL) has joined with Catholic Action to file an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to accept a case involving the state of Louisiana’s attempt to force the Catholic Church to violate its sacrament of confession.

The lawsuit, Diocese of Baton Rouge v. Mayeux, is yet another example of government’s increasing intrusion into religion.

No government entity has the right to tell a church what it can or cannot believe.  It is not God. The sacrament of confession has been one of the pillars of the Catholic Church for centuries, but now the state of Louisiana wants to dismantle it by forcing a priest to violate his sacred duty of confidentiality. This cannot and will not happen.

The Constitution, the rules of evidence, and decades of case law say that government cannot force a priest to reveal what is said to him in a confessional. If a law enforcement official or judge tells a member of Priests for Life to violate the seal of confession, I will urge that priest to disobey that order and stay in jail as long as necessary to fight it.

Confession is not a mere ritual. It is a sacred ministerial practice, the violation of which by a priest can result in his excommunication from the Church.  If the state requires us to choose between incarceration and excommunication, we will choose the jail cell.  My prayer is that the Supreme Court will accept this appeal and reverse the Louisiana Supreme Court so that priests across the country do not have to make this decision.

If the state can force into public view statements made during confession, it will not just be priests who will be harmed.

If there is no confidentiality in confession, the freedom of believers to confess their sins will be severely restricted. Mothers and families impacted by abortion, in particular, will be discouraged from experiencing God’s forgiveness if they fear their confessions will be made public.

Father Frank Pavone is the national director of Priests for Life.

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