Bishop Raymond Lahey, 70, entered the plea in an Ottawa courtroom, a rare case of high ranking Canadian Church official facing charges over sexual misconduct. The Vatican said Wednesday that with Lahey’s criminal trial now over, the church will now impose its own disciplinary or penal measures against him. “The Catholic Church condemns sexual exploitation in all its forms, especially when perpetrated against minors,” said a statement from the Vatican’s press office, adding “the Holy See will continue to follow the canonical procedures in effect for such cases, which will result in the imposition of the appropriate disciplinary or penal measures.”
It wasn’t clear what punishment Lahey could face from the Vatican: Prelates who sexually abuse minors can be defrocked; lesser punishments include being forbidden from celebrating Mass publicly. Lahey was charged in 2009 with possessing and importing child pornography after border agents examined his laptop at an Ontario airport on his return home from London, England.
The court heard Wednesday that Lahey became nervous when a border agent asked him if he had a laptop and ordered a second inspection when they discovered his passport contained stamps for Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Germany — countries that are notorious sources of child pornography. The prosecution said Lahey had 588 images of child pornography on his laptop and a hand-held device. Lahey resigned as head of the Catholic diocese of Antigonish in Nova Scotia just before the charges became public.
After pleading guilty, Lahey waived his bail and was taken into custody even though his sentencing hearing has not been set. Defense lawyer Michael Edelson said Lahey wanted to start serving time now in order to get credit after sentencing. Edelson also told the court his client feels profound remorse for his crime. “I’m pleased he pleaded guilty,” said Irene Deschenes, a survivor of sexual abuse by a priest in London, Ontario. “It saved the victims the trauma of having to hear of yet another court case where the clergy denied any wrongdoing.”
Michael Wegs, secretary-treasurer of the Come to the Stable/The Stephen Spalding Foundation, a non-profit that provides support to abuse victims and an abuse victim himself, called for the Church to defrock Lahey. “Clearly, Bishop Lahey and the Roman Catholic authorities understood the gravity of the situation and the evidence in the case is overwhelming,” said Wegs.
The case was especially shocking to Canadians because Lahey had overseen a multimillion dollar settlement for clerical sexual abuse victims in his diocese only a month earlier. Last year, in the midst of the clerical abuse scandal, the Vatican made acquiring, possessing or distributing child pornography one of the most serious canonical crimes that are handled by the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.