Louisiana Supreme Court Says Priests Don’t Have To Report Sexual Abuse


In a ruling last Friday, the Louisiana Supreme Court determined that Catholic priests do not need to report the sexual abuse of a child to authorities.

I’m going to repeat that, as it bears repeating.

In a ruling last Friday, the Louisiana Supreme Court determined that Catholic priests do not need to report the sexual abuse of a child to authorities.

The court said:

Any communication made to a priest privately in the sacrament of confession for the purpose of confession, repentance, and absolution is a confidential communication… and the priest is exempt from mandatory reporter status.

The Catholic Church has a storied tradition of covering up the sexual abuse of children, so it’s hardly any surprise that they wouldn’t want to deviate from what they do best. Now we have a state government formally endorsing the church’s long practice of knowingly allowing children to be sexually abused.

The Catholic Church’s position is based on Canon 983, which says:

The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason.


Any adult who is made aware of the alleged abuse or neglect of a child has a moral responsibility to report the allegations to authorities. I don’t care what their personal belief system is, what their job title is, or what type of ridiculous hat they wear.

It may also be worth noting that the ‘Seal of the Confessional’ is less than 1000 years old. So I guess the Catholic Church can actually change?

Kids who have been victims of sexual abuse do not always disclose the sexual abuse to their parents, teachers, or even their friends. Additionally, the disclosure of sexual abuse is not just one single event where the child shares everything that has happened to him or her. Disclosure is a process. The child is dealing with a substantial amount of trauma, and likely has been shamed or threatened by the perpetrator into not telling others about it. Anyone that child chooses to disclose to needs to feel obligated to report it. If not for legal reasons, then just as a decent human being a priest should feel the need to notify authorities.

It does not make a difference if the disclosure came during the “holy sacrament” of confession or if the child asks the priest to not tell anyone about the disclosure. More often than not, kids are ashamed of being sexually abused, particularly so within the Catholic Church, where the failed model of abstinence-only sex education reigns supreme. Kids are kids – they don’t always know what’s best for them. The priest is an adult. Any decent adult should know that no child deserves to be sexually abused.

The Louisiana Supreme Court’s ruling pertained to an incident in 2008 where a then-fourteen year old child disclosed sexual abuse to a grown adult male who, in turn, did absolutely nothing about it. The only defense for this that I can think of is that it was part of God’s plan for this child to be abused, then for an adult to do nothing about it when told. Why would anyone respect a God who wants children to be sexually abused?

And of course, the Baton Rouge Diocese was happy with the court’s ruling. In a statement, the Diocese said:

The narrow exception to the mandatory reporting laws which the legislature has provided, and which the Supreme Court has now recognized, protects religious freedom, while leaving in place our state’s rigorous reporting requirements which serve to protect our children from harm.

I am completely in favor of allowing people to practice whatever religion they choose. Contrary to popular belief, the actual beliefs of individuals is not the problem atheists have with those that define themselves as religious. The problem is Christian hegemony. The problem is when religion is given special privilege not extended to those who do not identify as Christians. In this case, they are being absolved of legal responsibility to report sexual abuse of children. This isn’t about religious freedom. This is about creating a society where children can feel safe knowing that an adult they trust – an adult who has chosen to project himself to a position of perceived authority – will do everything in their power to keep them safe.

We’re pretending that, because a 2000+ year old work of fiction says so, it’s okay for a priest to allow a child to continue being abused. What’s more is that the child making the disclosure is unlikely to be the first or only victim of abuse by the same person. sexual abuse perpetrators will often have a pattern of behavior that make them the sexual predator that they are, and seldom have just one incident of perpetrating on just one child.

It doesn’t matter what an adult’s job title, hobbies, or belief systems are –  they have an obligation to report sexual abuse of children to authorities. Whether you are atheist or devout, this is something any decent person should be able to agree with.

It’s not just that the Catholic Church has failed to do anything about sexual abuse. There was an active effort for decades to cover it up. It seems that the church is seeking out this ruling as another way to actively cover up sexual abuse, which is only slightly more disgusting than just not reporting it. The Church covers up sexual abuse so much, it’s almost become doctrine to them.

The court’s decision leaves me with a few questions, though. I wonder how many children have continued to suffer from sexual abuse because a priest failed to help a child? How many opportunities to stop sexual abuse were missed because of the church? Also, how many more children will be needlessly be victimized by the same perpetrator who is being allowed to roam free due to priests literally not doing anything to help?

The court’s decision happened just before Pope Francis said that the Catholic Church priesthood will forever remain a boys-only club because women will never be priests.

So apparently a woman priest is never going to happen, but covering up and lying about sexual abuse of children? I imagine the Church’s reaction to this is simply: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Perhaps the most ironic part is that this response is coming from the same group of people who like to claim moral superiority over those of us who do not believe in a sky wizard. Religion does not have a monopoly on morality, and should not be allowed to ignore laws.

Written by Dan Broadbent

Science Enthusiast. Atheist. Lover of cats.

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