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Reverend Raymond Lahey (left) arrives at a police station in Ottawa Thursday Oct.1, 2009. A former Nova Scotia bishop facing child-pornography charges has turned himself in to Ottawa police.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Reverend Raymond Lahey (left) arrives at a police station in Ottawa Thursday Oct.1, 2009. A former Nova Scotia bishop facing child-pornography charges has turned himself in to Ottawa police.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

'If you can't trust the chief shepherd, who can you trust?' Add to ...

Raymond Lahey was a gentleman theologian and scholar and a kindly shepherd to his flock in the deeply religious Gaelic, Acadian and First Nations parish churches of Nova Scotia's Antigonish County and Cape Breton Island.

He was courageously outspoken in urging his fellow Roman Catholic bishops to make the church more relevant to everyday life. He proclaimed that bishops must come among their people as ambassadors of Jesus who keep "God's saving mysteries" alive.

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Through much of his career, he had to deal with pain and anger over priestly sex scandals. He once asked his priests to pray for a month for people who had been abused as children by church officials and last month played a major role in negotiating a $15-million settlement for victims of a sexually abusive cleric.

On Thursday it was Rev. Lahey himself who scandalized his church.

Following a careful examination of his laptop by border officials after he flew into Ottawa on a flight from Europe, he was charged by police with possession and importation of child pornography.

Mark McGowan, principal of University of Toronto's St. Michael's College and one of the Canadian church's foremost scholars, called it "a horrendous incident. This is something that just has a massive ripple effect. This will evoke anger and disbelief and likely mark the pilgrimage of more Catholics away from the church."

The archbishop of St. John's, Nfld., Martin Currie, told CBC: "I was shocked. I was saddened. I was angered. You know, if you can't trust the chief shepherd, who can you trust?"

In Roman Catholicism, a bishop is responsible for teaching the faith and ruling the church. He carries a shepherd's crook as part of his formal vestments, emblematic of Jesus, who, according to the Bible, called himself the "good shepherd."

Father Lahey, 69, sent a letter to the Pope resigning as bishop of Antigonish before flying to Ottawa to surrender to police.

He was born in St. John's and ordained a priest in 1963. He was awarded a Ph.D. magna cum laude from the University of Ottawa in 1966 - when he was just 26 years old.

He studied in Rome and Cambridge and became first a professor and later head of the department of religious studies and a member of the senate at Memorial University of Newfoundland.

He wrote extensively on theology and church history, made a substantial number of contributions to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, served on two school boards, a provincial education committee and an orphanage trust, organized the Pope's visit to Newfoundland in 1984 and in 1985 was given the title Prelate of Honour by John Paul II.

And over three decades in the province, he dealt with the fallout from the church's devastating sex scandals.

According to testimony from one victim of the horrific abuse committed at Mount Cashel Boys Home orphanage in St. John's, Father Lahey was instrumental in removing from the facility a Christian Brother - a member of the lay Catholic order that ran the orphanage - who was sexually involved with a boy. It is not known if the man ever faced charges.

In 1986, Father Lahey was consecrated bishop of St. George's diocese - now the Diocese of Corner Brook and Labrador - which placed him in charge of churches overseen by Rev. Kevin Bennett.

Father Bennett was convicted in 1990 of multiple sex charges involving altar boys. In the $13-million civil trial for damages that resulted, the diocese was driven into bankruptcy and Father Lahey was initially held partly liable financially, although he testified he was unaware of what Father Bennett was doing. The Newfoundland appeal court later cleared him of financial responsibility.

In April, 2003, to the bagpipe skirl of MacCrimmon's March, Father Lahey was named bishop of Antigonish in St. Ninian's Cathedral. Two months later, one of his priests, Rev. Hugh Vincent MacDonald, went on trial on 27 sex-related charges. One of his alleged victims committed suicide.

Six years later, Father Lahey played an instrumental role in negotiating a record $15-million settlement with Father MacDonald's victims.

Last Aug. 7, Father Lahey was quoted in the news media as saying: "I want to formally apologize to every victim and to their families for the sexual abuse that was inflicted upon those who were instead entitled to the trust and protection of priests."

And now he has been charged.

Both Archbishop Currie and Archbishop Anthony Mancini of Halifax voiced concern that Father Lahey's arrest would rekindle torment and suffering among victims of past sexual abuse.

"Given the context of the church in parts of Atlantic Canada, particularly within the context of Bishop Lahey's landmark agreement on the cases in the diocese of Antigonish, this is absolutely unfathomable," said Prof. McGowan, "In the court of public opinion there is no silver lining to this story whatsoever."

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