Disgraced Bishop to Be Freed from Jail on Child Porn Conviction

By Andrew Seymour
Montreal Gazette
January 4, 2012

Former Catholic bishop Raymond Lahey, right, is pictured leaving on Wednesday the Ottawa court house with lawyer Solomon Friedman.
Photo by Pat McGrath, Ottawa Cityizen

OTTAWA A court's decision to release disgraced former Catholic bishop Raymond Lahey from jail after his conviction as a sex offender prompted both disbelief and relief among former parishioners.

The 71-year-old former bishop for Antigonish, N.S. won't spend another day in jail for possessing child pornography, including images of naked boys wearing rosary beads and crucifixes, after an Ottawa judge sentenced him Wednesday to what amounted to time served.

Ontario court Justice Kent Kirkland sentenced Lahey to 15 months in jail, but had already granted Lahey two-for-one credit for the eight months he already spent in jail. Lahey, who pleaded guilty in May to possession of child pornography for the purpose of importation, was also placed on probation for two years.

Parishioners in Lahey's former diocese reacted with disbelief, as well as relief, to the court's decision. "It seems like they're being a little lenient (toward) him because of his title," said Ashley Fleury, 25. The scandal was "really shocking" to the community, she said, pointing out that she'd known Lahey from events he'd attended in and around Antigonish several years ago.

Back then, Fleury recalled, Lahey was highly regarded and well-liked by parishioners. She described the bishop's fall as "disgusting," saying he shouldn't have entered into a vow of celibacy as a priest if he couldn't abide by it.

Other parishioners, however, expressed relief the court case had come to an end. "I'm just glad it's all over with," said Alex Cameron, a 49-year-old member of Antigonish parish. The scandal was a burden to the whole community, he said.

Even church officials in the area seemed to sound a note of relief. "When (church leaders) commit serious moral failures, this can have a significant impact on the faith community," Antigonish Bishop Joseph Dunn said in a statement. "This is especially so when it involves the crime of child pornography."

Dunn expressed "regret that so many people have been disturbed and upset by these sad events," adding that the diocese "continues to take steps to create a safe environment for all members of the church, particularly with respect to young people" through the diocesan Responsible Ministry Protocol.

"The diocese is committed to establishing safe and supportive communities for our young people and vulnerable adults," he said.

Lahey had voluntarily surrendered himself into custody following his guilty plea in May. He had been facing a one-year mandatory minimum sentence for possessing child pornography for the purpose of importation.

Lahey had been returning from a trip abroad in September 2009 when customs agents checked his laptop computer and found images which included young boys and teens engaged in sex acts including bondage and torture.

Police discovered 588 child pornography images along with 63 videos and several stories with themes of slavery. The child pornography made up only a small percentage of the approximately 155,000 pictures of pornography he had on the computer.

A psychiatrist who examined Lahey, Dr. John Bradford, determined he was neither a pedophile nor a risk to reoffend sexually against children. Rather, Lahey was interested in gay sado-masochistic sex, the psychiatrist testified.

Bradford said that Lahey, who has been involved in a 10-year romantic relationship with another man after a number of one-night stands, imagines himself in a "submissive role" in his sado-masochistic sex fantasies.

During an earlier court appearance, Lahey told Kirkland he had an "indiscriminate" addiction to online pornography but didn't seek help because of his high-ranking position in the church.

Lahey said he secretly wanted to be found out, so it was a "blessing in disguise" when customs agents stopped him at the Ottawa airport in September 2009.

The sentencing prompted a loud, profanity-laced outburst from one man in the court.

"You're not a pedophile . . . you're a . . . demon, you . . . idiot," Roger Touchette yelled at Lahey as he was led out of the courtroom. He continued shouting as the judge asked for security to be called.

Touchette, who said he was sexually abused by priests in Alfred, Ont., just east of Ottawa, said he found the sentence too lenient. "That's nothing for him. Eight months. Big deal, eight months," Touchette outside court. "I've got a life sentence."

In his decision, Kirkland said the mandatory minimum sentence of one year in jail wasn't sufficient to denounce Lahey's conduct and elected for the higher sentence. However, the enhanced credit for Lahey's time served really made it a moot point.

Kirkland said Lahey's explanation of an "indiscriminate" addiction to online pornography was no excuse. Child pornography results in the endless victimization of the children depicted in the images, the judge said.

"The violation of the child rises like a phoenix every time that image is viewed," said Kirkland. "If the Raymond Laheys of this world had no interest in observing the abusive images, there'd be no market to produce them."

Kirkland noted that the remorseful Lahey didn't organize his pornography collection and it appeared to come from publicly accessible websites.

However, the judge also pointed out that Lahey had no prior criminal record and a "history of upstanding and community building conduct. Indeed, his career is distinguished in education and spiritual leadership, particularly among young people."

Born in Newfoundland and Labrador, Lahey was ordained a priest in 1963 after graduating from the University of Ottawa two years earlier. He earned his PhD in 1966 and later sat on numerous school boards and was the trustee for an orphanage.

Lahey was named bishop of Antigonish in 2003, where he negotiated a landmark multimillion dollar settlement for victims of child sexual abuse by clergy.

Kirkland ordered Lahey to stay away for the next 20 years from parks, pools and playgrounds or any other place children under 16 may be present.

Among his other conditions, Lahey may not hold any position of trust or authority over children, must allow a police officer to search his computer at any time, and he can't communicate via the Internet with children younger than 16 years of age.

Kirkland also placed him on the national sex offender registry for the next two decades.

Following his release, a grim-faced Lahey waded through a sea of news cameras to a waiting car without saying a word.

His lawyer, Michael Edelson, said outside court that Lahey is resigned to his fate as a "social pariah."

"The sentencing in virtually every one of these cases essentially marks a person for life," said Edelson. "He's taken responsibility and I think he is now living with what he has done and he now realizes what his life is going to be like as a result of what he has done."

Lahey sent a letter to the Pope a year ago asking to be made a lay person in the church, but received no response, Edelson said, adding that his client won't be returning to active ministry. "His career in the church is over."

Prosecutor David Elhadad said the sentence Lahey received was within the appropriate range, although it fell short of the 18 to 22 months the Crown had been seeking.

Nonetheless, Elhadad said he believes the sentence sends a strong message. "Child porn and possession of it for any purpose whatsoever will attract higher and higher sentences."

"Collectors of this filth are a vital part of an evil menace it represents and bear responsibility for its malignant growth right along with the creators," Elhadad added, quoting from a Supreme Court decision.




Any original material on these pages is copyright 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.