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The sense of abandonment Add to ...

It is heartbreaking that Roman Catholic parishioners in this country are being made, once again, to feel abandoned by their leadership. But how else to describe the abrupt resignation of Raymond Lahey as Bishop of Antigonish last weekend?

In his letter to the Catholics he had led in Nova Scotia for six years, he made no mention of the fact that he was suspected of possessing child pornography. No one was made aware that his computer had been seized by border security guards at the Ottawa Airport on Sept. 15 after images "of concern" were apparently flagged.

Not even the Archbishop of Halifax, Anthony Mancini, was informed that Bishop Lahey had been charged the previous day, and that a warrant had been issued for his arrest.

Instead, Bishop Lahey told his parishioners that he was resigning his post "to take some much-needed time for personal renewal."

Was he hoping no one would notice?

The fact that his parishioners were taken by surprise in this way - some described it as being "punched in the stomach" - is eloquent testimony to the long-standing evasiveness that Canada's Catholic Church has engaged in with regard to the sexual victimization of children.

This tendency, over and over and over, to down play, stonewall and foot-drag rather than assume clear and unequivocal leadership simply has to come to an end.

We are not speaking, after all, of allegations of money laundering or bicycle theft. The extremely brave Canadian police investigators who are made to look at images of child pornography will tell you that these are not Playboy-style images of naked children. They are images that depict devastating acts of violation and cruelty perpetrated against our most vulnerable, the young.

If these allegations are proved, they will carry a particular sting because Bishop Lahey had been seen as a peacemaker for his diocese's troubled past, overseeing the recent court settlement that awarded $15-million to parishioners who said they were abused by priests as children.

In being taken off guard by news of the charges, Archbishop Mancini responded on Wednesday with a great deal more compassion for Father Lahey than for any of the potential victims in the child pornography charge. After calling Father Lahey to see how he was and to offer to "hold him up in our prayers," the Archbishop then told a reporter that the Church is made of many individuals beset with problems and "there but for the grace of God go any number of people."

It was a human response to startling and troubling news, but what is required now is extraordinary leadership and forceful eloquence. Parishioners need to know that the Church shares the public's revulsion at such behaviours and will minister to the abiding pain so many of their sons and daughters have experienced in the past decades, rather than deepen it.

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