Suspicion about Lahey raised 20 years ago

  • October 8, 2009
{mosimage}OTTAWA - As Antigonish parishioners coped with the “pain and anxiety” of the arrest last week of their former Bishop Raymond Lahey on charges of possessing and importing child pornography, a retired Newfoundland priest said he reported Lahey for possessing pornography 20 years ago.

Acting on information from a boy who had visited Lahey’s residence in the mid-1980s, when Lahey was still a parish priest, Fr. Kevin Molloy went to former St. John’s Archbishop Alphonsus Penney in 1989 to report some “bad news with respect to Bishop Lahey,” Molloy recounted in an Oct. 6 interview. Molloy said he subsequently phoned Lahey and told him of the allegation.

“I told him that I was very disappointed to have to call him on the matter but it was brought to my attention by Shane Earle that pornography was found in his residence when he was parish priest in Mount Pearl,” Molloy said. “We didn’t discuss it, he didn’t challenge me. He didn’t argue with me at all.”

Earle was a victim of sexual abuse at Mount Cashel orphanage in the 1980s. He spoke to Molloy after telling police about the abuse he and others had suffered in the St. John’s orphanage run by the Christian Brothers.

Lahey, 69, whose resignation as bishop of Antigonish was accepted on Sept. 26 by Pope Benedict XVI, turned himself into Ottawa police Oct. 1 to face charges of possession and importation of child pornography.

He became a bishop in 1986, three years before Molloy spoke to Penney. In his duties as a priest, he would sometimes visit the orphanage and occasionally bring boys to his residence in Mount Pearl. 

“It was on one of those visits that Shane Earle noticed pornography,” said Molloy, now retired and living in Florida. Molloy said Earle did not provide details and he thought it would be “too prurient” to ask him what he saw or whether they were magazines or videos. “For me pornography was a red flag enough,” he said.

Lahey was detained Sept. 15 at Ottawa airport by the Canada Border Services Agency after officers conducted a preliminary search of his computer and discovered “images of concern” that caused them to seize his computer. Ottawa police laid charges on Sept. 25. Lahey turned himself in to police Oct. 1 and was released later that day after posting $9,000 bail. He is expected to appear in court Nov. 4 to enter a plea. 

Pope Benedict appointed Halifax Archbishop Anthony Mancini as Antigonish’s apostolic administrator.  Speaking of the charges, Mancini said, “I am shocked and saddened by this devastating news. For the priests and people of Antigonish diocese, this is a terrible moment.” In a pastoral letter to the diocese Mancini said he felt “shame, frustration, fear and disappointment.”

In a television interview with CTV News Sept. 30, Mancini said the Pope must have known grave reasons behind Lahey’s resignation, but he and others in Antigonish were unaware of them.

St. John’s Archbishop Martin Currie issued a statement Oct. 1 saying there is shock, sadness and anger over the charges. There is sadness because of the battle the church in Newfoundland and Labrador has faced in restoring trust after years of scandal, he said. There is “anger because of the nature of the allegations: child pornography is child abuse and exploitation.”

In August, Lahey had announced a more than $13-million settlement in a class-action lawsuit involving clergy sexual abuse dating back to the 1950s. He had been widely praised for his pastoral concern and pursuit of justice.

Lahey became bishop of Antigonish in 2003 after 17 years in the diocese of St. George’s, Nfld.

(With files from Brian Lazzuri.)

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