Bishop Raymond Lahey - What would Jesus do?

By  Rev. Damian Macpherson, SA, Catholic Register Special
  • October 16, 2009
{mosimage}ANTIGONISH, N.S. - I am inclined to believe that most Roman Catholics thought the high-watermark of the sexual abuse of children by clergy had already been reached and perhaps was even receding. The allegations against Raymond Lahey, recently resigned bishop of the diocese of Antigonish, would seem to prove otherwise.

Locally, these revelations have introduced dark and foreboding days for the parishioners of this Maritime diocese. At the writing of this article I am in my home diocese of Antigonish attending a family wedding. I can report first hand that newscasts and local newspapers keep the embers of the alleged accusations against Bishop Lahey hot and brightly burning. The environment is blue with sadness as people seek to deal with their anger, disappointment and outright frustration. In the days since the allegations against the bishop broke, the agonizing consequences seem as though they will never go away.

While it is personally difficult to hear the outrage, I believe that the venting of feelings by people must be accepted and possibly encouraged, lest anger become locked up and remain within, leading to future dysfunctional behaviour.

On Oct. 4 the apostolic administrator of the Antigonish diocese, Archbishop Anthony Mancini, while seeking to provide some pastoral consoling, revealed his own dismay. Rhetorically he asked, “What will you say to the victims of sexual abuse, as we all struggle in the aftermath of unbelievable revelations and allegations of even more unacceptable shocking and possible criminal sexual behaviour? What I want to say is: Enough is enough! How much more can all of us take? Like you, my heart is broken, my mind is confused, my body hurts and I have moved in and out of a variety of feelings, especially shame and frustration, fear and disappointment, along with a sense of vulnerability, and a tremendous poverty of spirit.”

Without doubt, the accused bishop, if convicted, will live out the remainder of his years in some form of semi-seclusion, carrying the weight of this unbearable burden day in and day out. Following such behaviour, a life of prayer and self-imposed penance is often recommended and just as often pursued.

While the bishop’s alleged conduct precipitates a real and legitimate rage, expressed by extended angry commentary that even questions the legitimate exercise of church authority, it is a risky venture to try to sort through all of this ourselves. We do well to ask the question Peter put to Jesus: Lord to whom shall we go? Or perhaps we can reach into the world of youth and young adults to borrow a practice that can help alleviate the negative stress. It has become common practice to see youth and young adults wearing a simple wrist band with the words “What would Jesus do?” Remembering this message in times of conflict can resolve negative and judgmental situations before they become divisive and destructive experiences.

As  we seek to find some point of entry to begin a healing process, I think we must ask this simple and sobering question. What would Jesus do? Measuring our response against what we think might be His response could bring some balance into our own feelings.

As I reflect upon this question, my first response is to acknowledge that Jesus would not be as judgmental as I feel I am. Nor do I think He would want us to give up our discipleship as a consequence of such alleged betrayal. His response to Mary Magdalene, who otherwise was overwhelmingly condemned, His response to Peter, who denied Him three times, and the pulsating forgiveness flowing from the parable of the Prodigal Son make me believe that my own feelings and judgments need to be tempered. Jesus based His ministry on forgiveness. Despite the numerous disappointments and even the behaviour of His disciples, they were forgiven and remained faithful until the end. 

For me, believing that Jesus would think and act much different than me hardly changes the gravity of the alleged act, but it does ease the negative stress, deep disappointment and sense of judgment. If each of us were to pose the question to ourselves — What would Jesus do? — a good first step in the healing process would have begun.

Finally, without giving a moment of legitimacy to the bishop’s alleged actions, as Christians we must forgive even if it takes a lifetime to forget. In the words of Archbishop Mancini, “mercy is stronger than anger, forgiveness is more powerful than rejection and reconciliation is more transformative of spiritual devastation into new life possibilities.”

(Fr. Damian MacPherson, SA, is Director for Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs for the archdiocese of Toronto.)

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