Town of Antigonish shaken by Bishop Lahey scandal
Snow may have fallen in Antigonish on Wednesday, but temperatures rose in the area as residents reacted to the sentencing and subsequent release of disgraced former Roman Catholic Bishop Raymond Lahey.
Lahey was sentenced to 15 months in prison Wednesday for importing child pornography, but was released on probation within hours.
He 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, he was entitled to receive double credit for time served awaiting sentencing.
With close to eight months in jail, Lahey was free to go immediately.
"I don't think the sentence was long enough," says Antigonish resident and parishioner John Gary Bennett. "I think he should have got more than that."
"I think it sends a message, that, you know, that it was okay," says area resident Sarah O'Toole.
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.
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 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.
Ontario Court Justice Kent 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.
Lahey served six years as Bishop of Antigonish and shortly before his arrest he negotiated a multi-million dollar settlement with victims who were sexually abused at the hands of priests.
Lahey immediately stepped down as bishop and the Vatican appointed a new bishop for the diocese. It has not yet ruled on Lahey's status with the Catholic Church.
Many residents say Lahey's arrest and conviction has shaken the faith of the diocese and of many people living in the predominantly Catholic town of Antigonish.
"I don't think much of him," says Frank MacIsaac, a member of the Catholic Church. "He's not welcome in Antigonish no more…to me it's disgraceful to be a Catholic, having people like him operating the show."
"I struggle with it, the same as everyone else," agrees Bennett. "It didn't shake my faith completely, but it damaged it."
The current Bishop of Antigonish, Brian Joseph Dunn, issued a written statement on the matter shortly after the sentence was handed down in Ottawa.
"This entire matter has caused a great deal of hurt, disappointment and anger within and outside of our diocese," says Dunn in the statement. "I regret that so many people have been disturbed and upset by these sad events."
CTV News spoke with Dunn at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport Wednesday afternoon and he says today was a difficult day for him, both spiritually and personally.
"In some sense it's a closure, but in some sense, it's continuing on of healing that is necessary," Dunn tells CTV News. "We need to do lots of work with the people and we're trying to do a process now to find out where people are to get a sense, to let people express their concern, and help a whole reconciliation process to continue."
While many Catholics in the area are hoping this marks the end of the Bishop Lahey scandal, his impact on the diocese is still being felt. Church property continues to be sold to help finance the settlement with sex abuse victims that Lahey himself helped to negotiate just months before his arrest.
"I have lots of hope," says Dunn. "And so I think the diocese certainly can move one. It'll be difficult, but we can move on and I think there's lots of people that are very faithful, lots of people are very supportive of the diocese.
Also, there are a lot of people who are hurt so what we have to do is work together, move together so that we can allow the Lord to help us."
With files from CTV Atlantic's Dan MacIntosh and CTVNews.ca Staff