Monday, December 6, 2010

Nova Scotia Roman Catholic bishop pleads guilty to child pornography charges

I missed this story when it was in the news in April 2010; file under "Yet another one." As reported by CBC News, April 9, 2010:

A Catholic bishop already facing child pornography charges is being accused in a civil lawsuit of sexual abuse by a former resident of the infamous Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John's, CBC News has learned.

In a statement of claim filed in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, Todd Boland alleges he was abused by Raymond Lahey, the former head of the diocese of Antigonish in Nova Scotia who resigned last September.

Lahey was a priest in Newfoundland and Labrador before moving to Nova Scotia. According to the claim, Boland was abused several times over four years in the early 1980s while he was at Mount Cashel. The accusations include simulated anal intercourse and fondling...

...Over the following two decades, Lahey rose through the ranks in the Roman Catholic Church, eventually becoming a bishop.

In September, police in Ottawa found pornographic images of boys on Lahey's laptop...

...The civil suit against Raymond Lahey also names the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St John's.

Neither has filed a response in court, and no criminal charges have been laid.

Meanwhile, a survivor of sexual abuse claims that he told Roman Catholic authorities and police in Newfoundland in 1989 that he'd seen child pornography in Bishop Lahey's home. As reported by CBC News on October 5, 2009:

A sexual-abuse survivor told Newfoundland and Labrador church officials in the 1980s that he had seen pornography at the home of Bishop Raymond Lahey, who's now facing child-porn charges, the Catholic archbishop of St. John's said Monday.

Archbishop Martin Currie said former Portugal Cove, N.L., priest Kevin Molloy contacted him last week to say that in 1989, Shane Earle told Molloy that he had seen pornography in Lahey's home.

At the time, Lahey was the bishop for St. George's diocese in western Newfoundland. In 2003 he moved to Nova Scotia to head the diocese of Antigonish.

"I asked him what he did with [that information], and Father Molloy mentioned that he had taken it to the appropriate authorities. In this case, it would have been Archbishop [Alphonsus] Penney," Currie said...

...Molloy said he considered it a very serious issue at the time, but he doesn't know whether Penney pursued the matter any further then.

Shane Earle was sexually abused as a boy at the Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John's in the 1970s and 1980s. Earle was financially compensated for the damages caused by the abuse.

Earle said he told police and an inquiry into abuse at Mount Cashel that he saw child pornography in Lahey's home more than 20 years ago...

...On Monday, police officials in St. John's told CBC News that after hearing last week of Earle's comments, they searched through their files and were unable to find any record of Earle's claims.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary said it reviewed hundreds of pages of investigation notes, interview transcripts and tapes.

Lahey, 69, stepped down as bishop of the Antigonish diocese on Sept. 26, a day after he was charged with possessing and importing child pornography but before those charges were made public.

Days later, Ottawa police revealed the charges, saying Lahey had been stopped at the Ottawa International Airport on Sept. 15 and his laptop seized for allegedly containing child pornography.

May 6, 2011 update: Mr. Lahey has asked a judge to send him to jail in order to begin serving his sentence. As reported by Andrew Seymour of Postmedia News on May 4, 2011:

Lahey could have remained free on bail, but his lawyer Michael Edelson said his client felt deep and profound remorse and wanted to start serving his sentence immediately.

Lahey is facing a mandatory minimum sentence of a year in jail, although Crown prosecutors indicated they might seek a longer term. It was not clear whether Lahey might try to seek extra credit for the time spent in jail prior to his actual sentencing, although the Crown said they expected the time would be considered on a one-for-one basis...

...The Vatican said it was considering "appropriate disciplinary or penal" action against Lahey - who retains the rank of a bishop emeritus in the Church - and condemned child sexual exploitation of all kinds.

In addition to the criminal charges, Lahey is also accused in a civil lawsuit of sexual abuse.

In a statement of claim filed in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, Todd Boland alleged Lahey fondled him over his clothes, and that the abuse happened on numerous occasions over several years. The abuse is alleged to have happened in the mid-1980s when Boland was a resident at the infamous Mount Cashel orphanage.

A date for the sentencing hearing is expected to be set May 26.

January 5, 2012 update: On January 4, 2012, Bishop Lahey was sentenced to prison, but was immediately released. As reported by Sean Kilpatrick of Canadian Press on January 4, 2012:

Disgraced Roman Catholic Bishop Raymond Lahey was sentenced to 15 months in prison Wednesday for importing child pornography, but was released on probation within hours.

Lahey pleaded guilty to the child pornography charge back in May and surrendered himself into immediate custody while awaiting sentencing.

Since Lahey committed his crime in 2009, Ontario Court Justice Kent Kirkland said the 71-year-old bishop was entitled to receive double credit for time served awaiting sentencing.

And with close to eight months already in jail, Lahey was free to go from the court.

"The most difficult task for a judge in determining an appropriate sentence is the balancing of the fundamental principles," Kirkland said during the hearing.

"On one hand, the sexual exploitation of children is an offence that cries out for significant reprisal. On the other hand, the personal circumstances of this offender, who accepts responsibility for his wayward conduct, defies the urgency of incarceration."

After receiving his sentence and providing a DNA sample for the national sex offender registry, Lahey left court Wednesday afternoon, escorted into a car by one of his lawyers. Lahey made no comment to reporters.

Before he left, Lahey's lawyer, Michael Edelson, said his client's career with the Church was over and that Lahey would return to layman life. As for what Lahey plans to do next, Edelson wouldn't say...

...Lahey will now be on probation for two years. As part of his conditions, he will have to submit to random searches of his personal and office computers when required by the authorities.

He will also be banned for 20 years from areas where children might gather, such as schools and public pools, and from communicating online with minors under the age of 16.

Kirkland said in his sentencing that he considered the fact that Lahey had no previous criminal record and had a long history of community service.

He also considered a psychiatric assessment conducted last month that found that Lahey was not a pedophile, not a risk to the community and that there was minimal expectation of recidivism...

...At a sentencing hearing last month, Lahey apologized to his church and to victims of child pornography. He said his addiction to Internet porn went against his moral principles.

"I have come to recognize that I became addicted to Internet pornography on a very indiscriminate basis. This was an addiction powerful enough that despite my own distaste for it and my own internal convulsions I could not break it," he said.

Lahey's arrest rocked his former Nova Scotia archdiocese of Antigonish and he immediately stepped down as bishop. The Vatican appointed a new bishop for the diocese but has not ruled on Lahey's status with the Catholic Church.

Crown David Elhadad said that the 15-month sentence shows that offenders will be prosecuted and convicted of their crimes.

"Possession of child pornography for any purpose whatsoever will attract higher and higher sentences," he said outside the court.

But in the Nova Scotia town where Lahey worked, locals expressed disappointment about the sentencing.

"I don't think the sentence was long enough. I think he should have gotten more," resident John Gary Bennett told CTV Atlantic on Wednesday.
May 16, 2012 update: As reported by Michael Tutton of Yahoo News, May 16, 2012:

ANTIGONISH, N.S. - The Pope has defrocked a Roman Catholic bishop who was convicted earlier this year of importing child pornography into Canada.

The Holy See in Rome has stripped Raymond Lahey of his clerical duties in what is one of the most serious penalties that the Roman Catholic Church can impose, the Diocese of Antigonish, N.S., said Wednesday.

The decision means Lahey, a former bishop of Antigonish, can no longer work as a cleric nor preside at any religious services or sacraments.

Archbishop Richard Smith, the president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Lahey's actions have left the Catholic community deeply wounded.

"This has left Catholics just shaken to the core," Smith said in an interview.

"It has affected the Church ... and left us all shattered and broken-hearted. The impact is most strongly felt in the Maritimes and the Diocese of Antigonish."

In January, Lahey was sentenced to 15 months in jail and two years of probation after he was caught at the Ottawa airport in September 2009 with hundreds of pornographic images of young boys on his laptop and a handheld device.

But because Lahey was given double credit for the time he served in custody before his sentencing, he was released on probation upon conclusion of his trial.

Smith said Pope Benedict XVI has also ordered Lahey, 71, to continue his daily prayers.

"The Holy Father has chosen not to release him from that obligation, to make sure he continues to pray ... in reparation for the sin and the scandal that's been caused by this," the Edmonton-based bishop said.

Antigonish Bishop Brian Joseph Dunn issued a statement saying the Vatican's decision closes a dark chapter in the Church's history.

"This decision reminds all of us of the serious harms that come from all forms of pornography, especially child pornography," Antigonish Bishop Brian Joseph Dunn said in a statement.

"It also means that this action concludes both the criminal and canonical processes that are connected with this matter."

Dunn said any sacraments that Lahey performed prior to the Pope's decision such as baptisms and marriages remain valid.

In August 2009, weeks before he was charged, Lahey helped broker the settlement of a $15-million class-action lawsuit brought by former child sexual abuse victims in the Antigonish diocese.

At the time, he apologized to the victims and said they were entitled to protection from priests.

Lahey's defence lawyer, Michael Edelson, did not return messages seeking comment.

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