Former Bishop of Antigonish's hearings begin May 4
By Deborah Gyapong
Canadian Catholic News
OTTAWA (CCN)--When Bishop Raymond Lahey goes to trial on child pornography charges May 4, the anticipated 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. The charges followed the seizure of his laptop and other electronics upon his arrival in Ottawa airport in September 2009, upon his return from overseas. The bishop had recently 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.
“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 Father Morrisey said in the present climate, with zero tolerance policies concerning sexual abuse, anyone who is accused is deemed “already guilty.”
“That’s the context we’re in right now,” he said. “It just makes it difficult for a person to have an objective trial no matter who that person is.”
Father Morrisey said it has been extremely rare for a bishop to face criminal charges.
“It’s heartbreaking on many sides,” he said. “If there were victims, it’s heartbreaking for them. They find it very hard to understand.”
He pointed out that canonical rules are different from rules for a criminal trial and things that are illegal, such as drunk driving, are not a canonical crime. He added that causing scandal to the faithful is a canonical crime, but not a secular one.
“The standard practice in Canada is not to do any ecclesiastical processes until the secular ones are completed,” he said. “That doesn’t jeopardize the trial.”
“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, a retired pediatrician and professor emeritus of medical ethics who has advised the Canadian Church on the sexual abuse scandal since it first broke two decades ago Newfoundland.
Sister Kenney declined to comment directly on Bishop Lahey’s case.
Sources at the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) say the Executive Committee has decided not to comment while Bishop Lahey’s case is before the courts so has not to prejudice the outcome. Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast has also declined to comment.
Bishop Lahey has been living in a residence for retired priests in the Archdiocese of Ottawa since the October 2009.
“I think we’re still as a Church kind of reeling from the magnitude of offences and allegations against priests and bishops,” Sister 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 Sister 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 that 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, however, went to jail for sexually abusing other boys at Grollier Hall, but afterwards went on to 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. “It is painful; it is humiliating; it is necessary.”
“None of us likes a scandal, none of us likes to see our Mother shamed in public, shamed by her own children; however, the violation of one child a violation of one human soul is not worth a public image,” O’Brien said. “The Church is going to the Cross; all of scripture and tradition have told us that this must come. The glory and hope of the Church is to be found in her union with Jesus. Only in union with Jesus on the Cross will the Body of Christ come through to eternal life.”
Sister Kenny said many Catholics have gone into “denial mode” and viewed each case as an “exceptional circumstance,” and “go back and forth to the celebration of Mass as if the entire church were not affected by this and is being called to renew itself in some way.”
For Sister 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.
“Priests need us and we need them; we need each other to be a holy people,” she said, calling for relationships of accountability and mutual support.
Sister Kenney said a system that made the abuse possible still needs to be reformed.
“If we don’t deal with what it means to be a priestly people and how to love and support our priests and bishops, it’s guaranteed the pathology will come out in another way.”
She said that “because clericalism has dominated,” which involves “the protection of image, resistance to change,” the hierarchy has been “more concerned about the protection of power and authority than about the mission of the organization and loses touch with ordinary people.”
While all big organizations need a structure and a hierarchy and have a “clergy,” as her own medical profession does, it will fall under the weight of trying to be perfect or of “standing on hind legs” and saying, “I’m the bishop here or I’m the priest here.”
This approach has “disempowered the laity,” she said, adding, however, the laity has been complicit.
O'Brien said “clericalism in any form creates a rigid class of bureaucrats dominated by pride.”
But he raised concerns talk of empowering can become a political agenda “to recreate the nature of the Church itself, to create a democratic church, an autocephalous church independent of the grace of Peter.”
“’Liberal’ and ‘conservative’ clericalism is a failure to live the priesthood in the fullness which Jesus Christ calls the priests to live,” he said. Like Sister Kenney, he also sees lay people as complicit.
“Our failure as lay people in the West has been to compromise with the spirit of the world,” he said. “We have turned away from the Gospel; we have ceased listening.”
“Do we lay people pray for our shepherds? Do we offer sacrifice? Do we fast? Have we loved the truth?” he asked. “Or have we betrayed the truth by gathering about ourselves pleasing theologians and teachers who help us make peace with sin and error.”
O’Brien blamed the sexual abuse scandal on “ecclesial disobedience” of directives from the Holy See not to permit men with “deep-seated homosexual attraction” into seminaries or to be ordained to the priesthood.
“This has been largely ignored by the particular Church in Canada for at least two generations and now we are reaping the harvest of this disobedience,” he said. “Horrendous spiritual and moral blindness has been justified by calling it enculturation.”
O’Brien said legitimate enculturation encourages communicating the gospel in a language understandable to particular races, cultures and tribes.
“We are living in an apostatizing, once-Christian culture,” he said. “Enculturation into the moral degradation of the West is not authentic enculturation. It is in fact betrayal of the gospel.”
“Where ever sin and error are permitted within the flock of Christ, that portion of the flock will die unless there is repentance,” he said.
O’Brien said he hoped that clerical abuse victims would be able to “identify where we’ve been lied to” and “understand that we have been informed at a very deep level that we are worthless,” that we are “things to be violated” for the “service of someone else’s disordered appetites.”
He urged victims to seek Jesus, whose “love will heal us,” and “beware of the back door temptation to hatred.”
All human beings need the mercy of God. “If we would receive mercy, we must be willing to give mercy unconditionally,” he said. “That is forgiveness.”
“Forgiveness is not sweet feelings about one who has abused us,” he said. “Authentic forgiveness is about praying for the redemption of those who have harmed us."