Bishop guilty of importing child porn betrayed trust, Nova Scotia community says

Share Button

Canadian Press

06 May 2011

By Melanie Patten, The Canadian Press

ANTIGONISH, N.S. — The sting of disgraced Roman Catholic Bishop Raymond Lahey’s deception will linger in the hearts of parishioners for some time to come, said residents of the area where he once preached.

A day after Lahey pleaded guilty to importing child pornography, people in the quaint university town of Antigonish said Thursday they felt the 70-year-old former head of the local diocese broke their trust.

Andrew Chisholm, who lives in the nearby community of Heatherton, said the memory of Lahey confirming his two daughters now sickens him.

“I feel betrayed,” said Chisholm. “I’m very disgusted.”

The 52-year-old man, who lays floors for a living, said he believes the admission of guilt also tarnishes a landmark settlement Lahey helped negotiate for victims of child sexual abuse at the Antigonish diocese shortly before his arrest.

Lahey is not alleged to have been involved in that abuse. But he was a bishop in the community for six years and was seen as an instrumental figure in attempting to bring closure for those victims.

When the settlement was announced in the fall of 2009, Lahey apologized to the victims and said they were entitled to protection.

Lahey’s predecessor, Bishop Brian Dunn, said Thursday he stands by the settlement, though he regrets the pain that Lahey’s guilty plea has caused.

Dunn told a news conference that despite Lahey’s actions, there’s no sense that the settlement of the $15-million class-action lawsuit was deceptive.

“This is helpful to those who’ve been abused and will be helpful in their healing processes,” he said.

Dunn asked victims of child abuse to work with the church to reconcile what happened in the past.

“So many of you bravely came forward with sincere desire for justice, truth and reconciliation. I’m sure that the matters that are being addressed in the last couple of days were particularly harmful to you when first discovered and I am sorry that you now have to reopen some of your initial pain,” he said.

“Let me assure you that this diocese has over the past year continued to seek our shared goal of reconciliation and we will do everything in our power to continue along this path.”

Lahey was charged in October 2009 after airport customs officials in Ottawa screened his laptop. He had arrived on a flight from London on Sept. 15, 2009, bearing a passport that contained stamps for Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia — countries known to be child-sex tourism destinations.

Court heard that he had 588 images of child pornography involving boys on his laptop and a handheld device. The laptop also contained videos and text stories of child pornography.

A sentencing date for Lahey will be set on May 26.

Roger Natarajan, who’s lived in Antigonish for 40 years, said he believes Lahey pleaded guilty because he is honestly remorseful.

“He will probably be all right,” said the 71-year-old former professor.

“But it’s a sad thing … to find a religious leader to find himself in a quandary like that of his own making.”

Dunn said he has spent the past year dealing with the fallout of his predecessor’s behaviour, including connecting with victims of abuse and trying to rebuild people’s trust in the church. It’s a painstaking process he said will take a long time.

It would have been helpful, he said, if Lahey had owned up to his crime earlier.

A number of parishes in the area have reported shrinking congregations, though it’s not known whether the smaller numbers are directly related to the Lahey case.

Dunn said the diocese followed in the footsteps of others last fall and implemented a screening program for all employees. Any workers, including priests, who work directly with young people or vulnerable adults must undergo a police check.

“I believe it’s part of our response as people of faith to move through the hurt, as devastating as it is,” he said. “But there is a time for us to allow the Lord to heal us, to allow the church to be a sign of reconciliation and an instrument of reconciliation and healing.”

As for Lahey’s future with the church, Dunn said that’s ultimately up to the Vatican.

On Wednesday, the Vatican said it would follow the canonical procedures in place for such cases, “which will result in the imposition of the appropriate disciplinary of penal measures.”

Dunn said that could include anything from a time of prayer or penance to a prohibition from acting as a minister.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *