Former Antigonish Bishop Raymond Lahey, seen here at an earlier court appearance, goes to trial May 4 on child pornography charges.

Pain of Lahey trial could spark renewal

  • April 20, 2011

OTTAWA - When Bishop Raymond Lahey goes to trial on child pornography charges May 4, the anticipated news coverage will reopen wounds caused by the worldwide clerical sexual abuse, regardless of the trial’s outcome.

But observers say the pain provides an opportunity for needed renewal.

The former bishop of Antigonish was charged with possession and distribution of child pornography in October 2009. Lahey’s arrest followed the seizure of his laptop and other electronic equipment at Ottawa’s airport by a Canadian Border Service agent.

“The first thing is that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty and we should not jump to conclusions,” said Fr. Frank Morrisey, a canon lawyer who has advised the Canadian Church on the clerical abuse crisis.

But Morrisey said in the present climate, with zero-tolerance policies concerning sexual abuse, anyone who is accused is deemed “already guilty.”

“That’s the context we’re in right now,” he said. “It just makes it difficult for a person to have an objective trial no matter who that person is.”

“When the trial is in the public eye, and it will be, it will once again make the pain and distress of this issue more visible and more real,” said Sr. Nuala Kenny, a retired pediatrician and professor emeritus of medical ethics who has advised the Canadian Church on the sexual abuse scandal since it first broke two decades ago in Newfoundland.

“I think we’re still as a Church kind of reeling from the magnitude of offences and allegations against priests and bishops,” Kenny said. “When it becomes public again all of the raw surfaces are exposed again.”

But Kenny and bestselling Catholic author and artist Michael D. O’Brien, who was physically and psychologically abused by a supervisor of a Catholic-run Indian residential school in Inuvik when he was 13, see the ongoing crisis as an opportunity for necessary renewal.

“I hope that Catholics will keep in mind in the heart of their souls that the Church is the Bride of Christ,” said O’Brien, who escaped being sexually abused, despite the supervisor’s advances. His abuser, however, went to jail for sexually abusing other boys, and afterwards became a Catholic priest.

“The Lord is purifying His household, He is purifying the Bride in preparation for meeting the Bridegroom,” O’Brien said.  “It is painful; it is humiliating; it is necessary.”

Kenny said many Catholics have gone into “denial mode” and viewed each case as an “exceptional circumstance,” and “go back and forth to the celebration of Mass as if the entire Church were not affected by this and is being called to renew itself in some way.”

For Kenney the solution lies in the “reclamation of the priesthood of all the baptized.”

“The nature of the priestly is about holiness, servant leadership and humility before the Holy One and we all share in the priesthood of the baptized,” she said.

“Priests need us and we need them; we need each other to be a holy people,” she said, calling for relationships of accountability and mutual support. A system that made the abuse possible still needs to be reformed, she said.

“If we don’t deal with what it means to be a priestly people and how to love and support our priests and bishops, it’s guaranteed the pathology will come out in another way.”

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