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Bishop Raymond Lahey enters St. Ninian's Cathedral in Antigonish, N.S. for the installation of Lahey as Bishop of Antigonish in this June, 2003. (Peter Parsons/Peter Parsons/The Halifax Herald)
Bishop Raymond Lahey enters St. Ninian's Cathedral in Antigonish, N.S. for the installation of Lahey as Bishop of Antigonish in this June, 2003. (Peter Parsons/Peter Parsons/The Halifax Herald)

Catholic bishop facing child porn charges Add to ...

A Roman Catholic bishop who oversaw an historic settlement with victims of past sexual abuse by priests in Nova Scotia has been charged with possessing and importing child pornography.

Bishop Raymond Lahey of the archdiocese of Antigonish was searched at the Ottawa airport as he re-entered Canada on Sept. 15. Officers found images "of concern" on his laptop, and seized it along with other media devices. He was released pending further investigation.

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After a forensic examination revealed child pornography, Ottawa police charged Bishop Lahey, 69, Friday and issued a warrant for his arrest.

In a statement Saturday, Bishop Lahey said that "after much thought and careful consideration" he had submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict "for personal reasons."

"…To so many of you I would want to say a personal word of farewell and thanks. However, I have already left the diocese to take some much-needed time for personal renewal. I simply ask for your prayers, as I assure you of my continued prayers for you all," he wrote.

Archbishop of Halifax Anthony Mancini told CTV News that he spoke to the former bishop yesterday but doesn't know where he is and would encourage him to surrender "and allow the legal process to unfold."

When Bishop Lahey sent his resignation letter to the Pope, Archbishop Mancini said the clergyman would have been specific about why he was stepping down.

"The Pope would have to know what the grave cause is," he said. "And I have to assume that since he responded and accepted Bishop Lahey's resignation that the Pope knew the gravity of the matter."

Rev. Paul Abbass, a spokesman for the Antigonish diocese, said there was "a ton of speculation" about why the bishop resigned, with many people inferring it was because of stress or his health.

"We know the reason now and now we have to deal with that," he said, calling the charges "pretty devastating," especially in light of the recent sex abuse settlement.

Father Abbass described the former bishop as a warm, respectful and "very pastoral" man who was "absolutely committed" to resolving the abuse allegations. But he said the nature of the charges he faces makes helping the victims heal even more difficult. "There's a pretty big disconnect here," he said.

In August, the Antigonish diocese reached a $15-million class-action settlement with known and alleged former child victims of sexual abuse by its priests dating back to 1950. At the time, Bishop Lahey, who was bishop of Antigonish for six years and was not implicated in the allegations, apologized to the victims and noted they were entitled to protection from priests.

"Sexual abuse, indeed any abuse, is wrong. It is a crime and it is a serious sin in the eyes of God. I want to assure you that for some time our diocese, like others throughout Canada, have been taking steps to protect children and youth," Bishop Lahey told a news conference.

Last year, the Antigonish diocese and the Roman Catholic Church were named in the class-action lawsuit, which alleged they kept the assaults secret and failed to warn or protect children.

John McKiggan, the lawyer who initiated the suit, said yesterday that he was "very surprised" by the news.

In August, Mr. McKiggan said the settlement was "unprecedented in Canada," noting that churches typically fight such claims until they declare bankruptcy or the alleged victims give up.

Originally from Newfoundland, the former bishop once served as a professor of theology at Memorial University in St. John's and was bishop of the province's Diocese of St. George's for 17 years.

With a report from The Canadian Press

Follow on Twitter: @jillsmahoney

 

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