Lahey Sentencing Has Its Effect on Faithful

The News
January 5, 2012

WESTVILLE – Twenty years ago, when Rev. Doug Pilsworth began his career in the United Church, things were different.

"You enjoyed everybody and you had faith in your fellow person," he said. "Now it's more looking over your shoulder and wondering, your mind always questioning."

The sentencing of Bishop Raymond Lahey may bring an end to the legal case, but it leaves Catholics and other church members questioning its leaders.

Lahey was sentenced Wednesday to 15 months' jail and two years' probation for possession of child pornography. Lahey voluntarily served eight months in jail before his guilty plea and was allowed to go free Wednesday based on time served.

Pilsworth, the minister at St. Paul United Church in Westville, said the Lahey scandal has affected all churches.

"It is a hard journey for our Catholic friends, but it is a hard journey for the whole church when people start wondering about leadership," said Pilsworth.

Patti Long, former member of St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church and Catholic Women's League in New Glasgow, was disgusted with the leniency of Lahey's sentence.

"The justice system seems to protect high-profile individuals and gives very little consideration to those who endure the trauma experienced at the hands of pedophiles," said Long.

She said if the Diocese of Antigonish is going to survive its secrecy must end.

"This will only happen when the leaders from all parishes in the diocese demand changes such as allowing priests to marry, women in the priesthood, and making the hierarchy aware, parishioners are more interested in protecting the innocence of children, and serving their parishes with unity, peace and dignity than protecting the image of the Catholic Church," said Long.

Bill Dewtie, 77, has been a member of St. Ann's Parish in Thorburn his entire life.

He said the Lahey scandal had a more positive effect on his church.

"We thought it might hurt our church but it didn't," he said. "It made us stronger. We continue on and we figured we don't have to account for Bishop Lahey's sins."

Pilsworth said he has addressed the issue of Lahey in several sermons and tries to keep it in people's minds. He said the United Church now conducts police checks on anyone who might work with children in the church, whether it is in a leadership role or as a volunteer.

"It's hard, because we are called to love one another and yet this sort of thing comes up and they wonder about what people are preaching and what they are listening to and what they are doing in their own private life," said Pilsworth. "It becomes an enigma to all of us how it could happen."


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