Former N.s. Bishop Lahey Sentenced, Then Released

January 5, 2012

Raymond Lahey leaves the Ottawa court House following his sentencing in Ottawa, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

[with video]

Disgraced Roman Catholic Bishop Raymond Lahey was sentenced to 15 months in prison Wednesday for importing child pornography, but was released on probation within hours.

Lahey pleaded guilty to the child pornography charge back in May and surrendered himself into immediate custody while awaiting sentencing.

Since Lahey committed his crime in 2009, Ontario Court Justice Kent Kirkland said the 71-year-old bishop was entitled to receive double credit for time served awaiting sentencing.

And with close to eight months already in jail, Lahey was free to go from the court.

"The most difficult task for a judge in determining an appropriate sentence is the balancing of the fundamental principles," Kirkland said during the hearing.

"On one hand, the sexual exploitation of children is an offence that cries out for significant reprisal. On the other hand, the personal circumstances of this offender, who accepts responsibility for his wayward conduct, defies the urgency of incarceration."

After receiving his sentence and providing a DNA sample for the national sex offender registry, Lahey left court Wednesday afternoon, escorted into a car by one of his lawyers. Lahey made no comment to reporters.

Before he left, Lahey's lawyer, Michael Edelson, said his client's career with the Church was over and that Lahey would return to layman life. As for what Lahey plans to do next, Edelson wouldn't say.

"I don't think he has any concrete plans yet. I have an idea what he is planning to do in the medium term, but I'm not going to disclose it," he said.

"He's taken responsibility and I think he's now living with what he's done, and he realizes what his life is going to be like as a result of what he's done."

Lahey will now be on probation for two years. As part of his conditions, he will have to submit to random searches of his personal and office computers when required by the authorities.

He will also be banned for 20 years from areas where children might gather, such as schools and public pools, and from communicating online with minors under the age of 16.

Kirkland said in his sentencing that he considered the fact that Lahey had no previous criminal record and had a long history of community service.

He also considered a psychiatric assessment conducted last month that found that Lahey was not a pedophile, not a risk to the community and that there was minimal expectation of recidivism.

Lahey was arrested in September 2009 after being stopped at the Ottawa airport re-entering Canada with close to 600 pornographic photos on his laptop and handheld device.

Border officials said they found hundreds of images and dozens of videos, many of them showing young males engaged in sex acts. They also found written stories containing explicit sexual imagery of boys.

There were also thousands of other pictures of adult pornography on the computer.

Border officials said at the time that they flagged Lahey because he was a man travelling alone, and his passport showed several trips to Southeast Asia, Germany, Spain and other areas known for child pornography.

At a sentencing hearing last month, Lahey apologized to his church and to victims of child pornography. He said his addiction to Internet porn went against his moral principles.

"I have come to recognize that I became addicted to Internet pornography on a very indiscriminate basis. This was an addiction powerful enough that despite my own distaste for it and my own internal convulsions I could not break it," he said.

Lahey's arrest rocked his former Nova Scotia archdiocese of Antigonish and he immediately stepped down as bishop. The Vatican appointed a new bishop for the diocese but has not ruled on Lahey's status with the Catholic Church.

Crown David Elhadad said that the 15-month sentence shows that offenders will be prosecuted and convicted of their crimes.

"Possession of child pornography for any purpose whatsoever will attract higher and higher sentences," he said outside the court.

But in the Nova Scotia town where Lahey worked, locals expressed disappointment about the sentencing.

"I don't think the sentence was long enough. I think he should have gotten more," resident John Gary Bennett told CTV Atlantic on Wednesday.

Only weeks before his arrest, Lahey announced the results of a $15-million settlement for victims of abuse in the diocese dating back to the 1950s. About six weeks after the announcement, he had been arrested.

Lahey spent six years as bishop in the diocese, and his offence shook the faith of some of his flock -- like local Frank MacIsaac.

"I think it's disgraceful to be a Catholic, having people like him operating the show," MacIsaac said after the sentence was handed down.


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