Bishop Raymond Lahey freed from jail following sentencing

By 
  • January 4, 2012

OTTAWA - Bishop Raymond Lahey, 71, received a 15-month jail sentence Jan. 4 for importing child pornography but was released after the judge gave him a two-for-one credit for the eight months he had already spent in prison. The judge also imposed a period of 24 months' probation with strict conditions.

After sentencing, a spectator began shouting obscenities at Lahey through the glass of the prisoner's box and called him a demon. Police rushed into the courtroom, but did not charge the man who said he was a victim of sexual abuse at the St. Joseph Training School for Boys in Alfred, Ont.

Following a meeting with his probation officer and submitting a DNA sample for the National Sexual Offender Registry, Lahey walked out of the Ottawa courthouse a free man, save for the probation conditions. The conditions include: reporting regularly to a probation officer; advising of any change of residence or travel outside Canada; co-operating in any advice to seek counselling and turning over any assessments to his probation officer; and staying away from swimming pools, school yards or places where children under 16 might be present.

Lahey will be allowed to use computers and electronic devices, but Judge Kent Kirkwood said he would be prohibited from using them to communicate with children 16 or under, he must never use them to view pornography or erotica and must consent to search of his personal and work computers at any time by peace officers.

As one of his lawyers ushered him through the gauntlet of cameras and microphones into a beige sedan, the former Antigonish bishop refused to speak to journalists. Looking tight-lipped and pale, Lahey climbed into the front passenger seat as cameras flashed and reporters shouted questions.

In a scrum earlier, Lahey's lawyer Michael Edelson said he knows where the bishop will be living now that he is free, but refused to say where. When asked about whether Lahey will continue the 10-year homosexual relationship revealed to the court Dec. 19, Edelson said, "No comment."

Edelson said Lahey would forever live as a pariah because of the child pornography conviction.

Until Lahey opted to go to prison after his guilty plea last May, he had been living in a retired priests' residence in Ottawa. He moved into the residence to await trial not long after he was caught at the Ottawa airport in September 2009 with 588 child porn images, about 60 videos and fictional stories featuring sado-masochistic themes involving young boys on his laptop and other devices.

"Bishop Lahey is making his own arrangements for accommodation," said Sarah Du Broy, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese of Ottawa. "He will not be staying in a residence or rectory of the archdiocese of Ottawa. We do not know his plans."

Kirkwood outlined the balancing of society's concerns for denunciation and deterrence of serious crimes with mitigating factors such as Lahey's career as a "distinguished spiritual leader and educator" while a Catholic priest and bishop. But he also noted Lahey's apology for the harm he had done, and admission that "what began as a careless curiosity blossomed into an obsessive addiction."

Lahey's guilty plea, his lack of a criminal record, his history of upstanding community behaviour, a psychiatrist's conclusion that he was unlikely to reoffend and the absence of any "hands-on" conduct with children were defense arguments the judge said he considered.

The Crown had asked for a sentence of 18 to 22 months, stressing the size of the pornography collection, the abuse and exploitation of children it represents, the need to deter others and the need for society to denunciate the crime, the judge said.

The defense had argued for the time-served plus the two-for-one credit since Lahey was charged before the Truth in Sentencing Act came into effect in February 2010 and eliminated that provision.

When questions were raised in court about whether Lahey might still be able to operate as a priest and thus have access to children, the judge questioned whether there might be further canonical penalties from the Catholic Church. Edelson told the court that his client had written to the Pope a year ago requesting laicization but had not received a reply.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops did not issue a statement or comment on the sentencing, nor did the Holy See, but Antigonish Bishop Brian Dunn, Lahey's replacement, wrote of the "hurt, disappointment and anger within and outside our diocese."

"Church leaders are called to provide good example and to show moral integrity in their lives," Dunn said.

Their serious moral failures impact the faith community, especially when it involves child pornography, he said, promising the diocese would continue to take steps to provide a secure environment for all Church members, especially the young.

On Dec. 20, the second day of his sentencing hearing, Lahey apologized to "those I have hurt by my actions," and "to the Church, to my family." Reading from a piece of paper, Lahey said he hoped he would be found out, but failed to seek help because of his Church position. He urged others caught in the same predicament to "cease it and seek help" because "it causes genuine harm to children.

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