Skip to main content

In the public frenzy surrounding charges he possessed and imported child pornography, Bishop Raymond Lahey is leaving his Maritime roots for Ottawa - the city where he began his theological studies.

The Newfoundland clergyman, who was arrested and charged last week and let out on $9,000 bail on Thursday, informed Ottawa police Tuesday he intends to move the address designated under his bail conditions in New Brunswick to Ottawa, Constable Alain Boucher said Tuesday.

Ottawa is where the St. John's native began his journey through the priesthood - a meteoric career path that saw him named Prelate of Honour by the Pope in 1985, the same year Shane Earle alleges he found a catalogue of child pornography in the home of the priest who represented the closest thing he had to a father figure.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Earle, who remembers Bishop Lahey as a kindly adult at a time the boys needed one, said Tuesday that the length of time it took for Bishop Lahey to face charges indicates the church still has difficulty dealing with these issues among members of the clergy.

"Can you believe that?" Mr. Earle asked incredulously. "They keep protecting their own people. They just keep moving them around."

Mr. Earle says he approached the church, police and a commission dedicated to investigating sexual abuse of boys at Mount Cashel orphanage two decades ago to complain that the priest had pornography in his home.

"Shane was a very credible witness, I believed him," Rev. Kevin Molloy, who heard his initial complaint, said Tuesday from Florida, where he has a parish. The priest said he passed the allegation to then-archbishop of St. John's Alphonsus Penney, who had appointed Bishop Lahey his number two in 1981.

"I don't know what transpired," Father Molloy said. "It was just a matter of giving him information. It was up to him to take the ball and carry it."

Herbert Vivian acted as executive secretary to the high-profile Hughes Commission, which conducted an 18-year inquiry into child abuse at Newfoundland's Mount Cashel orphanage. Mr. Earle says he told the commission about the pornographic materials he allegedly found in Bishop Lahey's possession, but the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has said it has reopened its files from the commission but hasn't found any references to child-pornography possession.

Mr. Vivian said the reams of documents, interviews and recordings from the commission would all have been given over to police and Crown prosecutors, and it was up to them to pursue criminal charges as warranted. But he notes that Canada's child-porn laws were different then - their modern incarnation came into effect in 1993 - and it's possible those assessing the evidence concluded there wasn't enough to go on.

Story continues below advertisement

At the time Bishop Lahey's career was flourishing. In 1986 he was ordained Bishop of St. George's, on the western side of the island. His rise continued until his arrest on child porn charges last week. The news came weeks after he had helped finalized an historic $15-million settlement with victims of alleged sexual abuse by priests.

Martin Currie, now the Archbishop of St. John's, acknowledged Tuesday that it was possible that "everyone failed Shane Earle" but said they now have a more rigorous system for investigating complaints about priests.

When arrested, he was Bishop of Antigonish, having risen far from the Mt. Pearl rectory that became a popular refuge for boys from the Mount Cashel orphanage.

"He was all these idealistic things you want in a father," Mr. Earle said Tuesday. "He would embrace the kids and he would embrace me. It felt good to be embraced."

But Mr. Earle said it became impossible to ignore the pornography and condoms he alleges he found in the rectory. He began to shun Bishop Lahey, he said, attempted suicide and ended up in a psychiatric ward.

It took four years before he finally screwed up the courage to tell Father Molloy what he'd seen.

Story continues below advertisement

What then-archbishop Penney did with the information from Father Molloy remains unclear. He is not available and no record of any disciplinary action has been found by current staff at the archdiocese.

"You report to the appropriate authority and Archbishop Penney was the appropriate authority," said Archbishop Currie, who said they now have a formal process for dealing with complaints about clergy.

Archbishop James Weisgerber, president of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, remembers a 17-year-old Bishop Lahey starting his studies at St. Paul's seminary in Ottawa 1957 - a brilliant, talkative student and a "voracious reader" who tore his way through much of the seminary's world-renowned library and could hold forth on just about any subject. "He had an encyclopedic mind," Archbishop Weisgerber said. "He would have little bits of information about absolutely everything, and usually he was right."

Archbishop Weisgerber said because Bishop Lahey was already a bishop in 1989, when Father Molloy approached Bishop Penney, the archbishop wouldn't have had the authority to discipline him within the church - he could have passed the rebuke along, but little more.

Archbishop Weisgerber and Bishop Lahey were two of the only boys among the seminary's 120 students who didn't play hockey in the downtown rink, and there was no gym - they did a lot of walking, he said.

After the two men were ordained in 1963 they lost touch - Archbishop Weisgerber ended up in Saskatchewan and Bishop Lahey went to Newfoundland. Back then, a short Christmas phone call cost the impractically exorbitant sum of $10, Archbishop Weisgerber said

They reconnected in 1990, when Bishop Lahey became general secretary of the national bishops' conference. Not only would the well-organized priest be one of the few people to tackle reams of liturgical readings with gusto, but he was also "extremely progressive," Archbishop Weisgerber said - bursting with ideas for the future and how to engage younger generations in the church.

Archbishop Weisgerber said he was shocked and angered by the allegations against Bishop Lahey, and added he doesn't think it's fair that Bishop Lahey is now being tried "in the court of public opinion" before his case has gone to trial.

Bishop Lahey resigned as bishop of Antigonish when he was arrested on child pornography charges. But Archbishop Weisgerber said his title remains that of bishop.

Bishop Lahey's bail conditions include the requirement to check in with police twice a week, to inform police if he changes his address, not to attend any place frequented by minors or to be alone with any minor unless the youth's parent is present, not to go online, possess pornography or any device capable of accessing the Internet.

Report an error
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.