Charges against Bishop Lahey sound painful note at CCCB plenary

  • October 20, 2009
{mosimage}CORNWALL, Ont. - The child pornography charges laid against Bishop Raymond Lahey cast a pall over the weeks leading up to the annual gathering of Canada’s Catholic bishops.

In his last report to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops as president, Winnipeg Archbishop James Weisgerber said it “might be tempting” to use the phrase Annus horribilis to describe them. But the phrase is not part of our Catholic tradition, he said.

“For Christians, it is always Annus Domini, the year of the Lord,” he said. “Our overall perspective is that of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and of being called to labour in his vineyard.

“The arrest of Bishop Raymond Lahey has been especially painful, because of the seriousness of the charges, and also because it involves a former member of our assembly, an episcopal colleague, a close associate and, for many of us, a friend.”

The serious charges merit thorough investigation by competent authorities, he told the 90 bishops present for the week-long plenary meeting in Cornwall Oct. 19-23. He reminded them of the presumption of innocence until the charges are proven.

“As bishops we are united in concern and prayer for each other and for all of those whose lives are impacted by the crime and sin of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse,” he said. “These include the victims and their families; the local community and society in general; the Christian community in a special way; and also the perpetrators, as well as anyone who has been accused, whether justly or unjustly.”

He reaffirmed the bishops’ commitment to safeguarding against violations of human dignity in the priorities they agreed on 20 years ago, pointing to how the document From Pain to Hope continues to be an important pastoral resource.

The archbishop also brought up the controversy that has dogged the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace over the past year, concerning allegations its overseas partners are doing advocacy for abortion rights or contraception.

“Development and Peace has clearly indicated that it wishes to respond to new questions and concerns, and is already reviewing the effectiveness of its contractual arrangements with other groups, its surveillance of projects that it financially assists, as well as its mechanisms for ensuring co-operation and communication with local bishops and other episcopal conferences,” he said.

On a positive note, Weisgerber recalled the historic visit of Assembly of First Nations National Chief Phil Fontaine to the plenary last year that he said led to a building of a constructive relationship between the church and aboriginal peoples. The highlight was last April’s visit by aboriginal leaders and Canadian church leaders with the Pope in the Vatican.

“(The Pope’s) words and welcome have been key in opening up a new chapter for aboriginal peoples and for the church,” Weisgerber said.

In his overview of the previous year, the archbishop noted the finishing touches have been put on the multi-year restructuring process with the naming of members of two standing committees that will include bishops and lay experts. The archbishop named the two former MPs who will join the standing committee on government relations: former Progressive Conservative MP Benoit Bouchard and former Liberal MP Dennis Mills.  They will join the new CCCB President Pierre Morissette, Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte of Montreal and Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto.

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