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Former Bishop who helped church navigate storm now facing charges

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

Mt. Cashel and Father Kevin Bennett.

They're names that still bring cringes in Newfoundland, shorthand for two of the Roman Catholic church's worst sex abuse scandals in this country. They left dozens of young lives shattered and brought disgrace upon the church.

Raymond Lahey, who served years in the upper levels of the church in Newfoundland, helped it stickhandle its way through these scandals during his long tenure in the province.

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He was never personally implicated in the abuses. But news that the former bishop of Antigonish, who resigned on the weekend citing personal reasons, had been arrested on child pornography charges resurrected the church's ghosts.

"Let me first speak to those victims of past sexual abuse and to all for whom this news rekindles past pain," Archbishop Anthony Mancini told a Cape Breton news conference.

"These recent revelations take on the character of victimization. I wish it were not so. This is not what our community of faith is supposed to be about."

He would not speak about Mr. Lahey, who was taken into custody in Ottawa Thursday afternoon, saying it would be irresponsible to speculate about his former bishop.

Mr. Lahey was born in St. John's in 1940 and ordained as priest in 1963. He studied canon law in Rome and pursued post-doctoral studies in Cambridge, England before returned to his native province, where he spent the next 22 years. While there, according to his official biography, he taught religious studies and served in various pastoral positions for the Archdiocese, including Vicar General and pastor of St. Peter's Parish.

He was also personally involved in the fallout from the devastating scandals that rocked the church in Newfoundland.

Mr. Lahey was cited specifically during testimony by a former victim of the Mt. Cashel orphanage. The facility, which was run by lay brothers, became notorious for decades of abuse.

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The victim said that he told Mr. Lahey, who then held the title of Monsignor, that one of the staff was alleged to be sexually involved with a boy. The staff member was subsequently removed, he testified. It is not known whether the person ever faced charges. The orphanage was ultimately closed and the building torn down.

Later, as Bishop of St. George's in Corner Brook, Mr. Lahey was in charge of parishes that included those overseen by Father Bennett. The priest was convicted in the early 1990s after being accused of serial sexual abuse going back three decades. During later court proceedings related to a victims' lawsuit, Mr. Lahey testified that he was unaware of the allegations against the priest.

The victims of Father Bennett ultimately won a $14-million settlement but there have been concerns that the diocese would not be able to fund the settlement.

Mr. Lahey was re-assigned to Nova Scotia in 2003, taking up a position as bishop of Antigonish. At the same time he became chancellor of St. Francis Xavier University, a position he automatically voided when he resigned his bishopric on the weekend.

While in Nova Scotia, Mr. Lahey negotiated an historic settlement with victims of sexual abuse by priests. He was not implicated in the abuse and, announcing the settlement in August, he told the public that his diocese had "been taking steps to protect children and youth."

The apparent disconnect between that statement and this week's allegations, which have not been proven in court, shocked some observers. Ronald Martin, who launched the class-action suit that prompted the settlement, told the CBC that the allegations were "the ultimate revictimization."

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Mr. Lahey, who did not speak Thursday when surrendering to police, had been a vocal presence in the diocese. He was willing to tackle hot-button issues such as abortion, stem-cell research and same-sex marriage. Along with two other clergyman he published a letter about sex, directed at Catholic parents in the province.

"We know that not all parents are comfortable in speaking with their children about sexuality and how this gift is meant by God to be a source of mutual love, unity, and generosity between married couples," they wrote.

But parents were urged to step up to the task, even if they found it awkward.

"Education in sexuality is necessary and important ... In this, no one can replace the parents."

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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