what do you do with a problem like Raymond Lahey?

In 2009, Raymond Lahey (then bishop of Antigonish, Nova Scotia) was stopped at the Ottawa airport and his computer was searched. It was found to contain large quantities of child pornography. On May 4, 2011, Lahey pleaded guilty to possessing and importing the images and asked to begin serving his sentence immediately. At his sentencing hearing, the 71 year old admitted to being addicted to internet pornography, and that he was also involved in a ten year relationship with a man. On January 4, 2012, he was sentenced to 15 months in jail. He was given credit for eight months already served, and was set free. This was the legal punishment meted out by the Canadian courts.

Today, the Vatican imposed its own canonical sentence on Lahey. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops was informed that the former bishop is now stripped of his clerical status. The CCCB press release states,

According to Canon 292 of the Code of Canon Law, the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state has the following effects: loss of the rights and duties attached to the clerical state, except for the obligation of celibacy; prohibition of the exercise of any ministry, except as provided for by Canon 976 of the Code of Canon Law in those cases involving danger of death; loss of all offices and functions and of all delegated power, as well as prohibition of the use of clerical attire. Raymond Lahey has accepted the Decree of Dismissal, which also requires him to pray the Liturgy of the Hours in reparation for the harm and the scandal he has caused, and for the sanctification of clergy.

According to the Diocese of Antigonish, this is one of the most severe canonical penalties that the Roman Catholic Church can impose. REALLY???

On the positive side, Lahey admitted guilt immediately. Granted, the guilt was admitted once he was caught. But, he spared the people of Canada and the faithful in the pews from an expensive court case. Justice was meted out swiftly, especially in comparison to other clerical sexual abuse cases in North America.

Now, some might wonder if this case is as severe as those who are guilty of the physical sexual abuse of children. After all, the crime was merely possession of child pornography. But, child pornography IS sexual abuse and exploitation. Those are real children in the images, children who are being sexually abused. The proper reaction to such images is horror and a desire to save the children; not sexual gratification.

The Catholic Women’s League of Canada is actively fighting against pornography because of its exploitive nature. Women Religious around the world have banded together to fight against human trafficking because it provides the victims for an ever growing sex market. It is worth noting that it is the women of our church who are at the fore-front of these actions.

So, a bishop is caught and admits guilt to a disgusting crime. The crime is made all the more disgusting because of his trusted role as not only a priest, but as a bishop. He spends eight months in jail. And now, the poor man is defrocked.

According to the Canon law description, defrocking is equivalent to losing one’s job. Yes, there is shame and loss of employment security. This is a common consequence of criminal charges. At least he didn’t get a Vatican promotion.

Ah, but he is still required to obey his vow of celibacy. REALLY? Who is going to monitor this? He has already admitted to having a long term relationship with a man. He wasn’t living a celibate life as a bishop. Why would he as a lay person?

As to the severity of the canonical punishment meted out to Lahey,  I can’t help but think of how many times bishops have shot off their mouths excommunicating members of their flock, threatening them with eternal damnation. Having your clerical collar and all its privileges stripped away seems a light punishment in comparison.