A Florida appeals court recently said an Orlando priest doesn’t have to testify about what a local woman told him about being sexually abused when she was younger. The decision by the Fifth District Court of Appeal attempts to draw a line between prosecutors’ needs in Florida sex crime cases and religious protections under state law.
An Orlando man in 2017 was charged with four counts of sex crimes against a minor. Police initially launched an investigation after a 17-year-old girl told her mother that the man had abused her when she was between the ages of seven and 13. State prosecutors signaled ahead of trial that they intended to introduce out-of-court statements that the victim allegedly had made to a local Catholic priest when she was 15 years old. They said the girl disclosed to the priest that she had been abused while performing the rite of confession.
The priest didn’t want to testify, however. He asked a court to issue a protective order to keep him from being hauled into court. The priest argued that being forced to disclose the conversation would violate the “sacred seal of the Catholic Sacrament of Reconciliation.” As a result, he argued that dragging him into court to blab about the discussion would violate his religious freedom rights under First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He also said it would violate the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act (FRFRA).