Lahey Will Be Test of Church's New Rules

By Chris Cobb and Dan Neutel
Ottawa Citizen
January 4, 2012

Disgraced Catholic Bishop Raymond Lahey will be the first test of new church rules dealing with clerics involved with child pornography.

It is possible that Lahey, who is expected to be sentenced today after pleading guilty to possessing violent child pornography, will be defrocked by the Catholic Church.

"It is extremely rare for a bishop to be removed from the clerical state because typically bishops haven't committed these types of crimes," said Chad Glendinning, a canon law professor at Ottawa's Saint Paul University. "But he has admitted his guilt so it makes it a little easier for the Holy See. They need not hold a full hearing to determine his guilt so could send the matter directly to the Pope and he could make the decision to dismiss him. But this isn't automatic. It's a possibility but not an inevitability."

In May 2010, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith approved new rules to deal with clerics who use child pornography and made it a crime under canon law to possess child pornography. The Lahey case is the first to be dealt with under those new rules, so the Catholic Church will enter new ground in when it decides his fate.

There are other options besides defrocking, Glendinning said. Other sanctions open to the Pope include prohibiting Lahey from publicly celebrating the liturgy or assigning him to a life of prayer and penance.

"It all has a similar effect as dismissing him from the clerical state (defrocking)," he said.

Michael Swan, associate editor of The Catholic Register, described Lahey as being in canon law limbo.

"In terms of the application of canon law to bishops on this, it is sort of unprecedented" Swan said. "So, like any legal system, it is going to create precedents."

Lahey was arrested at Ottawa Airport in September 2009 after authorities found nearly 600 pornographic images on his laptop computer. Some showed young boys engaged in bondage and torture. In some images, the boys were wearing crucifixes and rosary beads.

Lahey pleaded guilty in May 2011 and voluntarily entered jail to begin serving his sentence.

Shortly after his arrest, Lahey resigned his post, becoming officially known as "The Former Bishop of Antigonish."

Within the Catholic Church, he is and always will remain a bishop.


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