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Secrets In The Dark

There is a concept that is used to explain why people stick to absolutes in arguing politics instead of compromising.  It's called the "slippery slope."  The idea is that, if one tiny compromise on an issue is made, it will be used as a building block by the other side to take away more until they eventually get their way.  Here in Illinois, this is what gave us the fascist anti-smoking laws we have now.  It went from a separate section for smokers to people can't smoke inside a public establishment to people must be outside and ten feet away from the door of a public establishment to smoke.  It's supposedly to save lives by making smoking so inconvenient people will quit, but that's just spin.  It's a way for people to use government to enforce their will and bully people instead of just trying to compromise and live and let live.

As a result, when it comes to social control, no one gives an inch.  They can't risk it.  Abortion.  Gun rights.  Certain subjects have a higher rate of absolutists arguing because of the slippery slope and how often it happens.

And now, we have the start of another slippery slope.  One that people aren't realizing what it will lead to.

According to court documents, in 2008, the Rev. Jeff Bayhi was hearing confessions at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in East Feliciana Parish.  A 14-year old girl entered and told the priest that a 64-year old parishioner touched her, kissed her,and told her he wanted to make love to her.  He also pursued her with e-mails and phone calls.  She did this on three separate occasions.  When she asked what to do about it, Bayhi was hardly the most enlightened person in the world.  He told her to handle the situation herself because "too many people would be hurt" and "this is your problem.  Sweep it under the floor and get rid of it."  The girl left the confessional and that was supposedly that.

Well, the girl and her family didn't put up with that.  In 2009, they filed a lawsuit that the girl's sexual abuse had been ignored by Bayhi and the Roman Catholic Church of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.  They contend that Bayhi should have informed authorities of the sexual abuse.  Bayhi, the Diocese, and their lawyers argued they couldn't do that -- the sacrament of the confessional means the priest can't say a peep about what he hears.  Doing so violates religious orders.  It would also further erode confession because the priest could then be compelled to testify in court, further compromising the sacrament.

During the lawsuit, the diocese sought to block any evidence or description from the girl's confessions.  A district judge shot that down, his reasoning being relevancy and that the girl, through this lawsuit, had waived her own secrecy privilege (yeah, but not the church's. -- G).  It was for naught, though, as an appeals court not only reversed the decision, but threw out the lawsuit, saying the priest could not be required to testify about what was confided in confession.

Now, this week.  The family appealed, and it was heard by the Louisiana Supreme Court.  They ruled that, because the girl waived her right to keep her confessions secret, the priest "cannot then raise it to protect himself."

...that's...dangerous....

The ruling didn't say anything about requiring Bayhi to testify, but it did say the district judge should determine "whether the priest obtained knowledge outside the confessional that would trigger his duty to report" what he heard and whether what the girl said was an actual "confession" and hence private or just her talking and he should have said something.  It also does follow that the priest can be called to testify.  If he does, he gets excommunicated.  If he refuses, he goes to jail.  The diocese has appealed to US Supreme Court, saying the ruling violates the constitutional separations between church and state.  Trial has been set for July 2015.

Now, I understand why this is happening.  Churches have not been cooperative when it comes to sex abuse cases, so this is seen as just more stonewalling.  Even so, the ruling has given pause even to those actively crusading against the church.  For example, David Clohessy.  He's the executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests based in Chicago.  Despite being hip deep in the battle, he couldn't recall any cases where a judge gets to say what constitutes a confession or forcing a priest to testify about what he heard.  "I don't offhand know of another case like this.  I think this kind of ruling is sort of made inevitable by decades of church complicity in child sex abuse cases."  Likewise, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights have pointed to a slew of court decisions that uphold the secrecy of confession.

Now, don't get me wrong.  Sex abuse is horrible and needs to be addressed.  And yes, the church has been horrible when it comes to addressing the problem.  But the motivation is tainted.  Notice it isn't some other crime like a murder or a robbery or anything like that.  People are pursuing this because it is specifically about sex abuse.  It's selective targeting, and that worries me.

But the biggest problem has nothing to do with religion.

There are several fields where client privilege is not just required, but defended to the death.  Psychotherapy and attorney consultations.  A person can mention something to his shrink or his attorney that is a outright admission of guilt, and it has to be kept private.  What happens within those doors never gets out, because that is where things are discovered and plans are made.

It isn't unreasonable to think that, if a priest can be forced to violate privacy because he was informed of a crime, then these others will be eventually forced, too.  After all, why is it okay to make a priest violate privacy but not them?  And this is not only trouble for the clients, but the therapists and lawyers who sometimes do things in the name of helping their clients.  What about a sealed testimony a judge reads to decide if it should be admissible?  Can he then be compelled to testify since he knows even if he rules something sealed or inadmissible?

Like I said, a slippery slope.

I'm reasonably sure this will get shot down.  The US Supreme Court doesn't hear cases unless there is a good chance the decision will be reversed.  Otherwise, they'd just let the ruling stand.  But it has nothing to do with protecting the church.  It has to do with what could be a breakdown of the entire legal system.

The slope is slippery.  And everything rolls down into the muck.

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