Archbishop Thomas C. Collins of Toronto CNS photo/Bill Wittman

Church must be diligent in selecting priests, bishops, Collins says

  • November 6, 2009

TORONTO - Archbishop Thomas Collins, in his first public comment on the scandal following the arrest of Nova Scotia Bishop Raymond Lahey on child pornography charges, challenged church leaders to be diligent in selecting suitable priests and bishops and to uphold their “solemn obligation” to act immediately when an offence occurs.

Speaking to 1,700 people at the 30th annual Cardinal’s Dinner Oct. 29, he called pornography “a scourge upon our society” and said he is enraged by the proliferation of this multi-billion-dollar industry. And society’s outrage is more intense when a priest or bishop uses pornography, and “rightly so,” he said, because they are entrusted by God so “any abuse of that trust is a betrayal of our vows to God.”

“To me, as a bishop, the pain of any priestly scandal is a sharp personal reminder that I need to do all that I can to be sure that those who are ordained, for all their inescapable human frailty, are living their vocation with integrity.”

Collins told the large gathering of church, community and business leaders that the church continually strives to improve its process of discerning candidates for priesthood and that the process for selecting bishops is extremely intensive, including dozens of letters of reference. He called it “a thorough process but not yet perfect.”

Lahey was arrested last month in Ottawa and charged with importing child pornography after an airport inspection allegedly uncovered child pornography on his laptop computer. Subsequent to his arrest, allegations surfaced that 20 years ago church leaders in Newfoundland were made aware of claims that Lahey possessed pornography while he was a parish priest. If anything was done about it, it was done quietly and did not apparently disrupt Lahey’s work as a bishop.

Collins said that because humans are frail beings there will always be the threat of scandal. But he said the church is obligated to thoroughly screen those who may become a priest or bishop and weed out unworthy candidates before ordination.

“Those entrusted with discerning who should be ordained as a priest or bishop need to be diligent,” said Collins, “and to pray for wisdom, always aware they might fail to spot an unsuitable candidate, especially if the problem is deep seated and hidden from everyone behind a splendid exterior.

“As for improper behaviour by those already ordained, I and all of us who exercise authority in the church have a solemn obligation to God and to the people we serve, especially to the most vulnerable, to act clearly and effectively if a problem is discovered, although with great care that injustice not be done to an innocent person.”

Collins also extended his prayers to the people of Antigonish and Atlantic Canada who “are suffering the full brunt of this scandal.”

Despite the Lahey scandal, Collins said his two-and-a-half years as archbishop of Toronto has filled him with hope because of the generous and loving people he encounters who are “alive with faith,” including “priests, deacons and religious and zealous and faithful laypeople.”

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