Focus on the children

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The Evening Telegram (St. John’s Newfoundland)

13 January 2012

Gerry Phelan
Gerry Phelan  

“Is that God?” The question from the four-year-old girl would have been cuter had it not come in the middle of mass on a Sunday morning.

Kids do that. They are just so honest, and people and circumstance matter not. Art Linkletter became famous for realizing that on his program, “Kids Say the Darndest Things,” and that came to mind when little Emma, in a not-so-hushed voice, uttered the words to her grandmother.

“Is that God?”

She was, of course, pointing at the priest standing near the altar. Nanny knew better than to enter into a detailed explanation there and then, but I grinned as she said, “close to it.”

Emma’s question shows how children, even today, with all the scandal and court cases, can view those who minister to us. I guess that is what makes it even more difficult with every occasion, and there have been too many, when we have to face an accusation or conviction of a person of the cloth. Those crimes against children are even harder to swallow.

I know it has been more than a week since the Raymond Lahey sentencing, but several readers have asked for my take, so here goes.

I knew Bishop Lahey when he was my parish priest in Mount Pearl. He was a jovial, well-respected man.

In the 1980s, he welcomed me to my then new parish with open arms, and offered kind words weekly.

I vividly recall one conversation when a charity I worked with managed to help out some people in the parish. He was enormously grateful and made sure to thank me for whatever role I had played in the deed. I regarded him as my pastor, and yes, as a friend.

I lost touch with Ray Lahey when he left St. Peter’s, but did have some professional dealings when I interviewed him when he was on the west coast.

Good people can do bad things. He did. It has not, and will not, go unpunished. Forgiveness is difficult, but I will find it. To do otherwise would make his sins my burden.

To quote Desmond Tutu, “Without forgiveness, there is no future.”

My biggest concern is for the children depicted in the pictures and videos found on Lahey’s computer – 155,000 pornographic images. Reports say 588 photos and 63 videos were of young boys engaged in various sexual acts, including some involving bondage and torture.

It is impossible not to say, “What were you thinking?”

And it is incumbent on all of us to ask ourselves that same question.

One of the prosecutors in the Lahey case, David Elhadad, was quoted in the Toronto Star as saying victims of child pornography bear “marks that are invisible to the naked eye but are of psychological harm, knowing that their photographed and videotaped sexual encounters are out there for eternity. They are the true victims.”

They are, indeed, the ones we should be concerned about.

In St. John’s, Archbishop Martin Currie has urged the Catholic community to learn from the situation, to “draw whatever good we can from this event, and recommit ourselves to building a better church, society and world, a world in which people are valued and treated with respect, where no child suffers, and where all can live in peace and joy.”

The building has to start here. If there was no market, there would be no child pornography. I would have preferred if the church had made a concrete gesture, and perhaps funded a scholarship for police officers or social workers or someone in some professional capacity who may work towards stopping even one case of some child being degraded to satisfy the perversions of others.

The RNC’s Child Exploitation Unit might appreciate more support for the work it is doing in the area. How about funds for more educational campaigns against child pornography?

The victims may be half a world away. They may also be in our neighbourhoods. They deserve no less of our attention, and decidedly deserve more than we are giving a disgraced bishop.

Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster. He can be reached at


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