Our shame is not yet behind us

  • October 8, 2009
{mosimage}In August Bishop Raymond Lahey was applauded for finalizing a multi-million-dollar settlement that would bring some measure of justice to men who were victims of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of Nova Scotia clergy. Last week, having resigned as bishop of Antigonish, Lahey surrendered to police to face charges of possessing and importing child pornography.

How is a faithful Catholic to reconcile these two events. How do we respond to yet another sexual-misconduct scandal involving clergy and children? What are we to make of a bishop who is a champion of abuse victims one day and an alleged abuser the next?

Archbishop Anthony Mancini of Halifax eloquently expressed “shame and frustration, fear and disappointment, along with a sense of vulnerability, and a tremendous poverty of spirit.” Yes, there is that, but surely there is more. There is also revulsion and anger, helplessness and betrayal. How could this happen? Again.

As Christians we are required to respond with compassion and prayer for an alleged sinner. We must always remember that. But as parents and grandparents and sons and daughters, who among us can honestly say our gut reaction to yet another scandal is mercy, not contempt?

Who among us does not roll our eyes at hearing again that clergy are human, after all, and subject to the same temptations and failings as the rest of us. We already know that. We know our priests and bishops are, overwhelmingly, sincere, faithful, dedicated men. No one suffers more than them when scandal envelopes the church. They deserve our prayers. But countless good works by so many good men doesn’t lessen our anger at the hypocrisy when a shepherd of God is accused of doing the work of the devil.

In August Lahey issued a formal apology to victims of sexual abuse with these words: “I want them to know how terribly sorry we are . . . Sexual abuse is wrong. It is a crime, and it is a serious sin against God.”

It is painful even trying to reconcile those words with the images police allege are stored on Lahey’s laptop. But, beyond that, we are required to interpret all this amid reports that a former archbishop of St. John’s, Nfld., was told 20 years ago that Lahey’s residence contained child pornography, and that Lahey, then a priest, didn’t deny it when confronted by another  priest.

All of which raises more questions: Were the allegations properly investigated? Were they true and were they considered when Lahey was working as a bishop where, eventually, he found himself announcing a multi-million dollar settlement in a child-abuse lawsuit?

The issue of clergy-inflicted child abuse is our great shame as Catholics. There is shame that it happened so frequently in the past, leaving so many scarred victims, but even greater shame if church leaders still won’t fully confront it. Lahey’s arrest reminds us that it is a shame that is not yet behind us.

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