The Ottawa Citizen
06 January 2012
It might have shocked some to see disgraced Catholic Bishop Raymond Lahey walk out of an Ottawa courtroom this week after being sentenced to time served for possession of child pornography. But that doesn’t mean his sentence was too lenient.
The court conferred an appropriate sentence on Lahey, who had been in jail for eight months, and faces restrictions on his behaviour that extend for the next 20 years. But now it is up to the Catholic Church to take action that restores the faith of members disillusioned and shaken by the actions of Lahey and other members of the Catholic clergy.
Lahey’s case is intrinsically shocking. In possessing images of children being abused he was contributing to their victimization and revictimization. And not only is he a Catholic bishop, but he is the one who, as bishop of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, negotiated a multimillion-dollar settlement for victims of child sexual abuse by clergy.
When Ontario Court Justice Kent Kirkland pronounced the sentence of 15 months which, with enhanced credit for time served, would mean Lahey was free to go, one man in court erupted with a profanity-laced outburst. The man later said he had been sexually abused by priests in Alfred.
It it not surprising people who have been affected by the sexual abuse scandal would feel betrayed and angry. That is something the Church must address.
When Lahey was arrested while returning from a trip abroad in September 2009, police found 588 child pornography images, along with 63 videos and several stories with themes of slavery. Lahey pleaded guilty in May and voluntarily surrendered. The court ruled that the mandatory minimum of one year was not enough in Lahey’s case. Having now served time in jail, he will be placed on probation for two years and his name will be on the national sex offenders registry.
Earlier this year, the Catholic Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith approved new rules that make it a crime under canon law to possess child pornography. Lahey’s will be the first case dealt with under those laws. It is an opportunity for the Catholic Church to reach out to people harmed by the ongoing sex scandals involving clergy. Lahey’s case makes it clear there is plenty of work yet to be done.