.- Bishop Raymond Lahey of the Diocese of Antigonish, Nova Scotia resigned and turned himself into police after being charged with possessing and importing child pornography. The accusations have particular significance because of his role in addressing sexual abuse accusations against his diocese’s priests.
Officers conducting a search at the Ottawa Airport found images “of concern” on Bishop Lahey’s laptop and seized it along with other media devices when the 69-year-old prelate reentered Canada on Sept. 15. When a forensic examination revealed child pornography, files were charged against the bishop and a warrant was issued for his arrest last Friday, the Globe and Mail reports.
The bishop turned himself in to Ottawa police on Thursday.
On Saturday, September 26, Archbishop of Halifax Anthony Mancini was named apostolic administrator of Antigonish, according to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB).
The CCCB reported that Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of the accused bishop, who asked to leave office for “personal reasons.”
“I have already left the diocese to take some much-needed time for personal renewal. I simply ask for your prayers, as I assure you of my continued prayers for you all,” the bishop wrote in a letter to his diocese.
According to the Globe and Mail, Diocese of Antigonish spokesman Fr. Paul Abbass said there had been “a ton of speculation” about the reasons for the bishop’s resignation, with many believing it was due to stress or his health.
“We know the reason now and now we have to deal with that,” he remarked.
He described the former bishop as warm, respectful and “very pastoral.” In the priest’s view, Bishop Lahey was “absolutely committed” to resolving allegations of clerical sexual abuse, but the new charges were “pretty devastating” in light of the recent sexual abuse settlement.
In August the diocese reached a $15 million class-action settlement with known and alleged former child victims of sexual abuse by its priests dating back to 1950.
The Globe and Mail reports that Bishop Lahey, who was not implicated in the allegations, apologized to those abuse victims.
“Sexual abuse, indeed any abuse, is wrong. It is a crime and it is a serious sin in the eyes of God,” he had told a press conference. “I want to assure you that for some time our diocese, like others throughout Canada, have been taking steps to protect children and youth.”
A Wednesday press release from the Archdiocese of Halifax reported that Archbishop Mancini learned of the charges against Bishop Lahey through the news media.
“I am shocked and saddened by this devastating news. For the priests and people of Antigonish Diocese, this is a terrible moment,” the archbishop said.
Archbishop Mancini told CTV News that he assumed that Pope Benedict knew “the gravity of the matter” when he accepted the bishop’s resignation.
Bishop Lahey had been bishop of Antigonish since June 2003. Previously, he had been Bishop of St. George’s, Newfoundland and Labrador since July 1986.
According to the CCCB, the Diocese of Antigonish has a Catholic population of 129,730 in 118 parishes and missions. They are served by 114 diocesan priests, three religious priests, one permanent deacon and 272 religious sisters.