Retired Bishop Raymond Lahey is seen in a file photo when he turned himself in to a police station in Ottawa Oct. 1, 2009.


Retired Bishop Raymond Lahey is seen in a file photo when he turned himself in to a police station in Ottawa Oct. 1, 2009.

April 25, 2011

OTTAWA — When Bishop Raymond Lahey goes to trial on child pornography charges May 4, the likely 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 September 2009 seizure of his laptop and other electronic equipment upon his arrival in Ottawa airport in September 2009 by Canadian Border Service agent, upon his return to Canada from overseas.

The bishop had completed a multi-million dollar settlement for clerical sexual abuse victims in his diocese a month earlier, a package widely hailed by victims' groups as generous and compassionate.

Lahey has been living in a residence for retired priests in the Ottawa Archdiocese since October 2009.

"The first thing is that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty and we should not jump to conclusions," said Father 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."

"It just makes it difficult for a person to have an objective trial no matter who that person is," he said.

"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 Sister Nuala Kenny.

Kenny, a retired pediatrician who has advised the Canadian Church on the sexual abuse scandal since it first broke two decades ago in Newfoundland, declined to comment directly on Lahey's case.

"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. It's not because, for most, that the pain is not there all of the time."


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 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 went to jail for sexually abusing other boys at Grollier Hall, but afterwards went to the seminary and became a Catholic priest.

"The Lord is purifying his household, he is purifying the bride in preparation for meeting the bridegroom," O'Brien said.

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.

A system that made the abuse possible still needs to be reformed, Kenney added.