St. John’s Archbishop Martin Currie is of two frames of mind when it comes to the sentencing of Bishop Raymond Lahey for importing child pornography.
“Today is a day of sadness, really,” he said on Wednesday upon learning of Lahey’s 15-month jail sentence, which he has already completed because of double credit received for remaining in jail after entering a guilty plea in May.
“It’s a day of sadness for myself and for the church in Newfoundland, Canada and Antigonish (N.S.), and for Lahey’s family.”
While the initial shock came more than two years ago when Lahey was first charged after he was caught with hundreds of pornographic photos of young boys, Currie said he hopes the sentencing will provide a sense of conclusion for those affected by Lahey’s conviction.
Prior to becoming bishop for the Diocese of Antigonish in 2003, he spent 17 years in the same position in western Newfoundland for the Diocese of St. George’s.
He also spent time as a department head for religious studies at Memorial University.
Church strengthening screening; increasing accountability
As a bishop in Newfoundland and Labrador, Currie said he used to meet with Lahey twice a year. He knew him well, and would sometimes phone Lahey to discuss matters of faith.
“He was a highly intelligent man,” said Currie. “He was a scholar and greatly respected by bishops in Canada and by universities for his knowledge.”
But Lahey’s downfall due to crimes of a sexual nature is not the first such case for a leader within the Catholic Church. His story is now one among many others from around the world.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, sexual abuse allegations that surfaced in 1989 against Christian Brothers at Mount Cashel Orphanage in St. John’s — with some cases dating back decades — resulted in its closure a year later.
Civil suits followed, and since then several criminal and civil cases involving sexual abuse have been made against priests who have served in the province.
Currie said the Catholic Church is making efforts to ensure those who serve in prominent roles are adequately screened psychologically. Candidates for the priesthood go through a full day of psychological tests and questioning, according to the archbishop.
Additionally, he said a human formation counsellor is employed at the seminary.
“In order to be a good priest, we say they first have to be a good human being. They need to have all the good human qualities that are essential.”
Peers are asked to submit information while they are initially placed in a pastoral setting to help the church determine whether the candidate is a stable and mature one.
Currie is hopeful the church can steer people away from a mindset that may have instilled previous men of faith with the notion their existence was on a unique and privileged level as a man of God.
“Many times when people are abused, people will say, ‘Priests, etc., they were next to God in their communities.’ You’d often hear that expression. Now we are trying to (tell) priests that they need to be accountable and they need to be transparent. These are the kinds of things we’re trying to work on now, because often in the past, priests were seen to be on a pedestal and they were somehow separated from the communities they served in and the families they came from. We have learned a healthy priest comes from a healthy family and a healthy community.”
He said trust no longer automatically comes with the position of priest.
“Trust cannot be attributed by a person’s position. Trust, today, must be earned.”
Currie added having a healthy theological foundation is not enough and that one must be a healthy, whole human being.
Whether Lahey remains a bishop much longer is doubtful. A canonical disciplinary process is already underway by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Currie said the group made of cardinals, archbishops and bishops in the Vatican may choose to either dismiss him from the clerical state, sentence him to a life of prayer or penance in a monastery, or direct him to privately seek penance while not being allowed to identify as a cleric by name, address or association.
“I know ever since the initial guilty plea and even before that, the church has begun the proceedings of gathering information,” said Currie. “I think they will probably proceed as quickly as possible.”
Lahey was succeeded in Antigonish by Bishop Brian J. Dunn, who is originally from St. John’s. In a news release issued Wednesday, Dunn said Lahey’s ordeal has caused a great deal of hurt, disappointment, and anger for those within and outside the diocese.
“Church leaders are called to provide good examples and to show moral integrity in their lives,” he said.
“When they commit serious moral failures, this can have a significant impact on the faith community. This is especially so when it involves the crime of child pornography.”
He went on to express “regret that so many people have been disturbed and upset by these sad events.”
— With files from The Canadian Press