When, a few days ago, I crawled out from under the rock I’d been under for a month or so, I discovered, to my horror, that a serious scandal has been unfolding in the Catholic Church in Canada. The details are too unsavoury to dwell on, but briefly: a bishop (a former bishop, technically, since he resigned when he saw it coming) in the Canadian church, Raymond Lahey, has been charged with possession of child pornography. His laptop computer was seized as he was trying to re-enter Canada, and the photos were found on it. In the last few days his residence in Antigonish has been searched, and who knows what they’ll turn up. I shudder to think on it.
Such things do not happen often, but when they do happen they cause untold damage to the Church and her witness in the world. I don’t know that I can adequately describe the feelings that I, and no doubt other Catholics, feel: shame and embarrassment, stupefied disbelief, sorrow, anger. It is one thing to find that a shepherd of souls, who is supposed to be leading his flock to Christ, was overmastered by ordinary weaknesses of the flesh — all have sinned, after all, and fallen short of the glory of God — and quite another to discover that his flesh was not only weak but worm-eaten and festering with perversion. Those who know the man say they are shocked. The human heart is deceitful and cunning above all things. An irony is that Lahey had been the leading cleric supporting victims of an earlier clerical sex scandal. The financial settlement in that case had finally been completed earlier this year.
In Canada, child pornography legislation protects everyone under 18 years of age from exploitation. That is right and proper, but it introduces an ambiguity into charges related to child porn, for it glosses over a meaningful distinction between an attraction to children (pre-pubescent) and an attraction to sexually-mature teenagers — there is a difference, I mean, between desires for a 7-year old and desires for a 17-year old, at least if one wants to identify the nature of the underlying pathology. At the risk of provoking lurid imaginings, part of me wants to know which side of that hidden divide Lahey’s crime falls under. I’m afraid I fear the worst, but would like to know if I am wrong.
Fr. Raymond de Souza, in a column in the National Post, sees some sign of hope in the way this case is being handled. The Pope swiftly accepted Lahey’s request to step down from the episcopacy, presumably (but not certainly) because he was told why. Lahey’s Archbishop, Anthony Mancini, has been public and unequivocal in his condemnation of Lahey’s behaviour. The days when the authorities might yield to the temptation to cover-up such problems are, let us hope, well and truly over. Still, this man was a bishop. How did that happen, especially since (we now learn) accusations of a similar sort were made against him twenty years ago? That is a serious failure of due diligence, to say the very, very least.
Lahey is now in the hands of the justice system, and we will let it do its work. I hope, of course, that he will experience true contrition and repentance. I also hope that the punishment will fit the crime. It shouldn’t be too difficult to come up with a big old millstone and a bit of rope.